AAEM minimonograph #10: Volume conduction

Daniel Dumitru, Joel A. Delisa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


A volume conductor is any medium with the capability of passively conducting a current between regions of potential difference. The monophasic positive intracellular action potential produces a monophasic negative extracellular waveform and a triphasic extracellular waveform in a poor and good volume conductor, respectively. The observed waveform characteristics are dependent upon both the recording electrode montage and the type of volume conductor surrounding the excitable tissue. The extracellular current flow associated with an action potential can be divided into two current sources flanking a central current sink. If a recording electrode is located over the negative current sink, a negative potential is observed. When the two current sources approach a recording electrode, a positive potential is recorded. If a positive deflection of the baseline is observed, one may conclude that the wave of depolarization under investigation did not originate under, but traveled toward, the recording location. Electric currents from external sources are free to propagate extraneurally as the body is a good volume conductor. Care must be taken to not activate nearby nerves and, subsequently, obtain a waveform contaminated with potentials from undesired sources. Additionally, electrical activity from neighboring muscles and nerves can summate in the volume conductor and yield responses capable of masking pathology. An understanding of the principles of volume conduction theory can help the electrodiagnostician avoid artifactual errors and erroneous conclusions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)605-624
Number of pages20
JournalMuscle & Nerve
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • action potential
  • electromyography
  • muscle
  • nerve
  • volume conduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Physiology (medical)


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