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What is a nerve conduction velocity test?

A nerve conduction study or a nerve conduction velocity test (NCV) is an electrical test that is used to determine the adequacy of the conduction of the nerve impulse as it courses down a nerve. This test is used to detect signs of nerve injury.

In this test, the nerve is electrically stimulated, and the electrical impulse ‘down stream’ from the stimulus is measured. This is usually done with surface patch electrodes (they are similar to those used for an electrocardiogram) that are placed on the skin over the nerve at various locations. One electrode stimulates the nerve with a very mild electrical impulse. The resulting electrical activity is recorded by the other electrodes. The distance between electrodes and the time it takes for electrical impulses to travel between electrodes are used to calculate the speed of impulse transmission (nerve conduction velocity). A decreased speed of transmission indicates nerve disease. A nerve conduction velocity test is often done at the same time as an electromyogram (EMG) in order to exclude or detect muscle conditions.

When is a nerve conduction velocity test used?

Symptoms that might prompt a health care professional to order an nerve conduction velocity test test include numbness, tingling, and/or burning sensations. The nerve conduction velocity test test can be used to detect true nerve disorders (such as peripheral neuropathy and mononeuritis multiplex) or conditions whereby nerves are affected by mechanical compression injury (such as carpal tunnel syndrome and compression neuropathy). A normal body temperature must be maintained for the nerve conduction velocity test test, because low body temperatures slow nerve conduction.

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Princeton and Rutgers Neurology is not affiliated with Rutgers University