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
Follow your provider's instructions on how to prepare for the procedure.
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.
Midha R, Elmadhoun TMI. Peripheral nerve examination, evaluation, and biopsy. In: Winn HR, ed. Youmans and Winn Neurological Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 245.