Nerve/Skin/Muscle Biopsy

Biopsies are small samples of nerves, skin, muscle or other tissues that are removed from the body. The samples are examined to identify and diagnose various disorders.

What is it?

A biopsy is a minor surgical procedure which involves making a small incision to remove a sample of nerve, skin, muscle or tissue for examination.

Why should I do it?

A nerve biopsy may help distinguish between demyelination (damage to the myelin sheath covering the nerve) and axon degeneration (destruction of the axonal portion of the nerve cell). It may also help identify an inflammatory neuropathy or confirm specific diagnoses.

A nerve biopsy is invasive and is useful only in certain circumstances.

A skin biopsy is helpful to distinguish certain disorders that might affect the small nerve fibers, as may be the case with painful sensory axonal neuropathies.

A muscle or other tissue biopsy is used to diagnose and identify damage caused to muscles and organs as a result of various disorders such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, sarcoidosis and amyloidosis.

How is it performed?

A nerve, skin, muscle or other tissue biopsy usually is a simple outpatient procedure. For a nerve biopsy, a local anesthetic is used to numb the area. The surgeon makes a small incision and removes a portion of the nerve, usually from the ankle or the calf. The sample is then examined for abnormalities under a microscope.

A skin, muscle or other tissue biopsy is performed much the same way, except that the surgeon removes skin, muscle, or other tissue instead of nerve.

How will it feel?

Because a local anesthetic is used, discomfort during the procedure is usually minimal. The anesthetic may burn or sting when first injected. After the procedure, the area may feel tender or sore for a few days. An area of the skin may remain permanently numb after the biopsy.