He specialized in the study of the nervous and optic systems. In 1828 he was habilitated as Privatdozent at the University of Leipzig. It was there that he became professor extraordinary of zootomy in 1834.
In 1837 he went to Dorpat as professor of physiology, pathology and semiotics. However, his residence in Dorpat was short: he left for Halle as early as 1843. In 1854 Volkmann assumed as well the teaching of anatomy, until 1872, when physiology was branched off and given to Julius Bernstein.
In 1872, after his fiftieth doctoral jubilee he retired completely from his university activities. He died in Halle.
Today, he is most remembered for his additions to the physiology of the nervous system and physiological optics. In 1842 he demonstrated that sympathetic nerves were largely made up of medullated fibres arising from sympathetic and spinal ganglia.
However, he also delineated and identified numerous features of gross anatomy, including Volkmann's canals.