What you need to know about muscle biopsies


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doctor-659896_640You may be asked by your doctor to undergo a muscle biopsy. For many this sounds complicated, and perhaps a little unnerving. Here, we explain the basics of muscle biopsies so you don’t have to wonder any more!

Why would my doctor suggest a muscle biopsy?

The main reason you may be asked to undergo a muscle biopsy would be to determine what type of muscular dystrophy or neuromuscular disorder you have, some final diagnoses come from the result of the biopsy. Sometimes testing of your DNA may not provide enough or the proper information needed, and a muscle biopsy needs to be completed.  Moreover, you may be asked to undergo a muscle biopsy for research purposes. Muscle biopsy is a powerful tool to study muscle at a fundamental level. Some research questions can only be answered by analyzing muscle extract.

What does the procedure consist of?

Typical areas for the muscle to be taken from include the upper arm, shoulder, calf, and thigh – it is usually dependant on where you are experiencing weakness, and what type of MD or NMD your doctor suspects you are affected by.

The two types of biopsy techniques are needle and open:

Needle biopsies consist of a very small needle being inserted into the muscle, where it then extracts a small sample of muscle. The opening left by the needle is then closed and covered using surgical tape and a band-aid.

Open biopsies are used when a larger sample of muscle is needed.  An incision of one to two centimeters long is made, the sample is removed, and the incision is closed with a few stitches.  For this type of biopsy, the amount of muscle removed is usually about the size of the tip of your pinky finger.

Is there any recovery time?

Muscle biopsies are considered outpatient procedures, so there would be no disruption to school, work or other activities. The procedure is done under local anaesthetic.. To learn more on surgery and anaesthetics click here.

What is learned from a muscle biopsy?

A muscle biopsy is used for microscopic and/or biochemical analysis. Microscopic analysis can give information about muscle structure and components. Biochemical analyses allow cellular and molecular analysis. Muscle abnormalities can be identified following these analyses, combined or not.  These can determine your MD or NMD and what the sub-type is.

For more information see:

Muscular Dystrophy Campaign

Muscular Dystrophy Association

MDA’s Quest

You can also contact your doctor or your regional services person.

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