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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

In medical terms, “inspection” means to look at the person or body part. It is the first step in a physical exam.

Palpation

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

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

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 or gas 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

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