Biopsy - nerve
A nerve biopsy is the removal of a small piece of a nerve for examination.
A nerve biopsy is most often done on a nerve in the ankle, forearm, or along a rib.
The health care provider applies medicine to numb the area before the procedure. The doctor makes a small surgical cut and removes a piece of the nerve. The cut is then closed and a bandage is put on it. The nerve sample is sent to a lab, where it is examined under a microscope.
How to Prepare for the Test
There is no special preparation.
How the Test will Feel
When the numbing medicine (local anesthetic) is injected, you will feel a prick and a mild sting. The biopsy site may be sore for a few days after the test.
Why the Test is Performed
Nerve biopsy may be done to help diagnose:
- Axon degeneration (destruction of the axon portion of the nerve cell)
- Damage to the small nerves
Demyelination (destruction of parts of the myelin sheath covering the nerve)
- Inflammatory nerve conditions (neuropathies)
Conditions for which the test may be done include any of the following:
A normal result means the nerve appears normal.
What Abnormal Results Mean
Abnormal results may be due to:
Risks of the procedure may include:
- Allergic reaction to the local anesthetic
- Discomfort after the procedure
- Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)
- Permanent nerve damage (uncommon; minimized by careful site selection)
Nerve biopsy is invasive and is useful only in certain situations. Talk to your provider about your options.
Chernecky CC, Berger BJ. Nerve biopsy - diagnostic. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:814-815.
Shy ME. Peripheral neuropathies. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 420.