Over recent decades, the development of specialised techniques such as patch clamping and site-directed mutagenesis have established the contribution of neuronal ion channel dysfunction to the pathophysiology of common neurological conditions including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, peripheral neuropathy, episodic ataxia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and neuropathic pain. Recently, these insights from in vitro studies have been translated into the clinical realm. In keeping with this progress, novel clinical axonal excitability techniques have been developed to provide information related to the activity of a variety of ion channels, energy-dependent pumps and ion exchange processes activated during impulse conduction in peripheral axons. These non-invasive techniques have been extensively applied to the study of the biophysical properties of human peripheral nerves in vivo and have provided important insights into axonal ion channel function in health and disease. This review will provide a translational perspective, focusing on an overview of the investigational method, the clinical utility in assessing the biophysical basis of ectopic symptom generation in peripheral nerve disease and a review of the major findings of excitability studies in acquired and inherited neurological disease states.