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What is a nerve conduction velocity test (NCV)?
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 or abnormal pressure on the nerve. A nerve conduction velocity test is often done at the same time as an electromyogram (EMG). An EMG is carried out in order to exclude or detect muscle conditions which may be present due to muscular or neurologic disease.
Why the nerve conduction velocity test is performed
Symptoms that might prompt a health care professional to order a 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 other compression neuropathies). A normal body temperature must be maintained for the nerve conduction velocity test, because low body temperatures slow the speed of nerve conduction.
Medically reviewed by Joseph Carcione, DO; American board of Psychiatry and Neurology
Horowitz, Steven H. "Overview of nerve conduction studies." UptoDate. Updated Feb. 19, 2014.