Physical examination

During a physical examination, a health care provider studies your body to determine if you do or do not have a physical problem.

A physical examination usually includes:

  • Inspection (looking at the body)
    In medical terms, “inspection” means to look at the person or body part. It is the first step in a physical exam.
  • Palpation (feeling the body with fingers or hands)
    Palpation is a method of feeling with the fingers or hands during a physical examination. The health care provider touches and feels your body to examine the size, consistency, texture, location, and tenderness of an organ or body part.
  • Auscultation (listening to sounds)
    Auscultation is listening to the sounds of the body during a physical examination. Auscultation is usually done using a tool called a stethoscope. Health care providers routinely listen to a person’s lungs, heart, and intestines to evaluate these things about the sounds:

    • Frequency
    • Intensity
    • Duration
    • Number
    • Quality
  • Percussion (producing sounds, usually by tapping on specific areas of the body)
    Percussion is a method of tapping body parts with fingers, hands, or small instruments as part of a physical examination. It is done to determine:

    • The size, consistency, and borders of body organs
    • The presence or absence of fluid in body areas

Percussion of a body part produces a sound, like playing a drum. The sound is a sign of the type of tissue within the body part or organ.

  • Lungs sound hollow on percussion because they are filled with air.
  • Bones, joints, and solid organs such as the liver sound solid.
  • The abdomen sounds like a hollow organ filled with air, fluid, or solids.

Source: Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine U.S. National Library of Medicine