Nerve Conduction Studies

What is a nerve conduction study?

A nerve conduction study is a kind of medical test. It can show how well messages called electrical impulses travel through the nerves of the body.

The body has sensory nerves and motor nerves. Sensory nerves send messages to the spinal cord. Motor nerves send messages to the muscles. A nerve conduction study tests both kinds of nerves.

Nerve conduction studies tell us if there is something wrong with the nerves or muscles. For example, we use nerve conduction studies to find out what is wrong when a patient has weakness, numbness, pain, or tingling in the arms, legs, or face.

Preparing for a nerve conduction study

Do not put any cream or lotion on your child's arms, legs, or face on the day of the test. The test may not work properly if your child has cream or lotion on the skin. Your child may eat and drink as usual before the study.

Nerve conduction studies are usually done in hospital

Nerve conduction studies are done by doctors and nurses who are specially trained to care for nerve and muscle problems. You may stay in the room with your child during the test.

What happens during a nerve conduction study

Your child will lie comfortably on a bed. The nurse will use a cold liquid to clean the part of the body to be tested. The nurse will then put two small tapes called recording electrodes on that part of the body. This lets us record the messages being sent to and from those muscles by the nerves. 

We might check to see if these messages are like the messages of other muscles and nerves that are working well. The nurse will hold a special electrode over the nerve being tested. Your child will feel a tingle or a buzzing that will make the muscle twitch for a few seconds. The study will not hurt your child. But she may find the tingling or buzzing of the muscle a little uncomfortable. This study usually takes up to 30 minutes.

After a nerve conduction study

Your child will have no side effects, or problems, from the nerve conduction study. Your child may return to her usual activities right away.

Key points

  • Nerve conduction studies are used to try to find out what might be wrong with muscles or nerves.
  • There is no special preparation for a nerve conduction study.
  • The test takes about 30 minutes.

Jennifer Boyd, RN, MHSc, CNN(C), MSCN
Jiri Vajsar, MD, MSc, FRCPC