Methods of Physical Examination

A Comprehensive Guide to Physical Examination Techniques

Physical examinations are an important element of healthcare since they allow healthcare providers to determine a patient’s general health status. It is a methodical strategy that uses a number of approaches to collect information on a patient’s physical health. We will explore the most regularly used physical examination procedures and their importance in healthcare in this complete guide.

Physical Examination

What is a Physical Examination?

Physical Examination: A physical examination is an investigation of the body to determine its state of health. A physical examination involves the use of the techniques of inspection, palpation, percussion, auscultation, and smell. A complete examination includes a client’s height, weight, vital signs, and a head-to-toe examination of all body systems. This procedure is designed to identify any physical anomalies, assess the health of internal organs, and assess the efficacy of treatment regimens.

Significance of Physical Examination

Physical examination is critical in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of health issues. It assists healthcare personnel in detecting irregularities, assessing the efficacy of treatments, and monitoring a patient’s general health status. Physical examination techniques are also employed in routine health screenings to discover potential health problems before they become serious.

Commonly Used Physical Examination Techniques


The examination is visually inspecting the patient’s body for any anomalies such as edema, redness, or discoloration. It is frequently the initial step in a physical examination and provides vital information about the patient’s general look.


Palpation is the process of touching and feeling the patient’s body for any anomalies, such as lumps or soreness. It is often used to detect problems in the muscles, bones, and organs and can aid in the identification of specific locations of pain or discomfort.


Percussion is the tapping of the patient’s body to assess the size, consistency, and borders of internal organs. It is utilized to detect any anomalies or changes in organ function and can aid in the detection of potential health problems.


Auscultation is the technique of using a stethoscope to listen to sounds produced by the body, such as heartbeats or breathing sounds. It is frequently used to evaluate the health of the heart, lungs, and digestive tract.

Articles used for Physical Examination

Name of ArticlePurpose
ThermometerFor assessing the temperature
SphygmomanometerFor assessing the blood pressure
LaryngoscopeFor assessing the larynx
StethoscopeFor listening to the various body sounds
Weighing machineFor measuring the weight
OphthalmoscopeFor examination of the eye
FetoscopeFor listening to the fetal heart sounds
Tongue depressorFor visualization of mouth and throat
Nasal speculumFor examining the nostrils
Tuning forkFor assessing the hearing condition
Vaginal speculumFor examining female genital organs
FlashlightTo visualize any body part and to check pupil reaction
Percussion hammerFor testing reflexes
ProctoscopeFor examining the rectum
OtoscopeFor examining the ear
Pharyngeal retractorFor visualizing pharynx
Tape measureFor measuring height and various circumferences

Normal Head-to-Toe Physical Examination Findings in the Middle Adult

Body SystemAssessment Findings
IntegumentVery thin skin
Rough, flaky, dry skin
Scalp and hairExcessive generalized hair loss or patchy hair loss
Excessive scaliness
Head and NeckLarge, thick skull and facial bones
Asymmetry in the movement of the head and neck
Drooping one side of the face
EyesReduced peripheral vision
Asymmetric position of the light reflex
Drooping of the upper eyelid or ptosis
Redness or crusting around the eyelids
EarsDischarge of any kind
Reddened, swollen ear canals
Nose, sinuses, and
Nasal tenderness,
Occlusion of nostril
Swollen and pale pink or bluish-gray nasal mucosa
Sinuses tender to palpation or upon percussion
Asymmetric movement or loss of movement of the uvula
Tonsils red or enlarged
Thorax and lungsUnequal chest expansion
Unequal fremitus, hyper resonance, diminished or absent breath sounds
Adventitious lung sounds such as crackles and wheezes
Heart and vascular systemPulse inequality, weak pulses, bounding pulses, or variations in the strength of pulse from beat to beat.
Bradycardia or tachycardia
Hypertension or hypotension
Breast – femaleA recent increase in the size of one breast
Pigskin-like or orange-peel appearance
Redness or painful breasts
Breast – male abdomenSoft, fatty enlargement of breast tissue
Bruises, areas of local discoloration, purple discoloration, or pale, taut skin
Generalized abdominal distension
Hypoactive, hyperactive, decreased, or absent bowel sounds
Female genitaliaAsymmetric labia
Swelling, pain, or discharge from Bartholin’s glands
The decreased tone of the vaginal musculature
Cervical enlargement or projection into the vagina
Reddened areas or lesions in the vagina
Male genitaliaRashes, lesions, or lumps on the skin of the shaft of the penis.
Discharge from penis
Enlarged scrotal sac
Bulges that appear at the external inguinal ring or at the femoral canal when the client bears down
Muskuloskeletal systemUneven weight bearing
Decreased range of joint motion: swollen, red, or enlarged joint: painful joints
Decreased strength against resistance
Neurological systemLethargy
Inadequate motor responses
Abnormal sensory responses: inability to smell certain aromas, loss of visual fields, inability to feel and correctly identify facial stimuli, absent gag reflex

Annual Physical Exam Blood Tests

An annual physical examination may include different blood tests based on the individual’s age, gender, and overall health state. Nonetheless, the following are some common blood tests that are usually included in an annual physical exam:

Complete Blood Count (CBC): This test counts the amount and types of blood cells in the body, such as red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. It can assist in the detection of illnesses such as anemia, infections, and blood abnormalities.

Lipid Panel: This test determines the amounts of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. Elevated triglyceride and cholesterol levels can raise the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Blood Glucose: This test detects diabetes and prediabetes by measuring the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood.

Kidney Function Tests: These tests diagnose kidney abnormalities by measuring the amounts of creatinine and blood urea nitrogen (BUN) in the blood.

Liver Function Tests: These tests examine enzyme and protein levels in the blood, which can suggest liver damage or disease.

Thyroid Function Tests: These tests diagnose thyroid disorders such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism by measuring the number of thyroid hormones in the blood.

Screening for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs): These tests are often performed depending on individual risk factors and can include HIV, syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea tests.

Other components of an annual physical examination may include vital sign measures and screening tests such as mammography, Pap smear, or colonoscopy, in addition to these blood tests. It’s critical to talk with your doctor about which tests are right for you depending on your personal health history and risk factors.

Some Specific Physical Examinations

Cardiovascular Physical Examination

A cardiovascular examination is a physical test that focuses on the heart and blood vessels to examine the health of the cardiovascular system. This type of examination is often performed by a healthcare provider, such as a physician or nurse, and consists of a number of procedures used to evaluate the patient’s heart and blood arteries.

The exam starts with a review of the patient’s medical history, which includes any cardiovascular diseases or risk factors including high blood pressure, smoking, or a family history of heart disease. The patient’s vital indicators, such as blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate, will also be evaluated by the healthcare professional.

Many approaches are used in the physical evaluation of the cardiovascular system:

Visual examination: The healthcare provider will visually examine the chest and neck for any apparent abnormalities, such as edema, pulsations, or scars.

Palpation: The healthcare professional will feel the chest and neck area for any abnormalities or soreness, including the precordium (the area of the chest where the heart is located) and peripheral pulses.

Percussion: Percussion may be used by the healthcare professional to assess the size and boundaries of the heart and other structures in the chest.

Auscultation: The healthcare provider will use a stethoscope to listen to the patient’s heart and blood vessels. This includes listening for any murmurs, clicks, or other aberrant sounds, as well as the rhythm, pace, and quality of cardiac sounds.

During a cardiovascular examination, further tests such as an electrocardiogram (ECG), which records the electrical activity of the heart, or an echocardiogram, which uses ultrasound to make images of the heart, may be performed.

A cardiovascular examination is a vital tool for evaluating the circulatory system’s health, recognizing any irregularities or prospective health risks, and devising a treatment plan if necessary. Individuals should have regular cardiovascular exams as indicated by their doctor, especially if they have any risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Physical Examination of Urine

MeasurementNormal ValueInterpretation
pH4.6 – 8.0the pH of urine indicates the acid-base balance
ProteinNoneNormally protein is not present. But it is common in renal disease because of damage to the glomeruli and tubules that allow proteins to enter the urine
KetoneNoneIt is present in uncontrolled diabetes mellitus(ketonuria) due to the breakdown of fatty acids. The other conditions are starvation, dehydration, use of excessive aspirin
BloodNoneA positive test means the presence of RBCs, hemoglobin, or myoglobin
Specific Gravity1.0053 – 1.030Increased in concentrated urine, decreased in diluted urine
Microscopic Examination
RBCsup to 2Damage to glomeruli or tubules, trauma, disease, or surgery of the urinary tract may lead to hematuria
WBCs 0 – 4Greater numbers indicate UTI
BacteriaNoneThe presence of bacteria Indicates UTI
CastsNoneIncreased numbers indicate calculi or renal alterations
CrystalsNoneThe presence of crystals indicates renal calculi or impaired food metabolism

Importance of Hip & Pelvic Exams

The hip joint and pelvic region are both vital parts of the body that can impact mobility, quality of life, and general health. Frequent examinations of these areas are necessary for the early discovery, diagnosis, and treatment of any potential issues. This is why:

Hip Exam

A hip exam can aid in the diagnosis of a variety of hip injuries and diseases, including fractures, osteoarthritis, bursitis, and labral tears. Early detection is critical for quick treatment and the prevention of future injury or consequences.

Treatment planning: Based on the individual injury or condition, a hip exam can assist healthcare specialists in developing an effective treatment plan. Depending on the severity of the injury or ailment, treatment may involve rest, physical therapy, medication, or surgery.

Injury prevention: A hip exam can assist in identifying any potential risk factors or abnormalities that may contribute to a hip injury. This information can be used to create a preventative plan that includes hip-strengthening exercises and stretches to prevent future injuries.

Evaluation of healing progress: A hip exam can be used to assess the healing course of an injury or ailment and determine whether it is safe to return to normal activities.

Hip screening: A hip exam can also be performed to detect any underlying hip issues or anomalies, such as hip dysplasia or avascular necrosis.

Pelvic Exam

Screening for reproductive health Issues: A pelvic exam is an important tool for screening for reproductive health disorders in women, including cervical cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, and uterine fibroids.

Diagnostic of Pelvic floor disorders: A pelvic exam can aid in the diagnosis of pelvic floor problems such as pelvic organ prolapse, urine incontinence, and fecal incontinence. Early detection is critical for quick treatment and the prevention of future injury or consequences.

Pregnancy evaluation: A pelvic exam is frequently conducted during pregnancy to assess the health of the fetus and the mother’s cervix.

Screening for ovarian and uterine cancer: A pelvic exam can aid in the detection of early symptoms of ovarian and uterine cancer, increasing the likelihood of effective treatment.

In conclusion, regular hip and pelvic checks are critical for preserving good health and discovering any problems early on. Individuals should see their doctor on a frequent basis, especially if they have any pain or discomfort in these regions, have a family history of hip or pelvic disorders, or are at high risk for reproductive health difficulties.

Importance of Knee Exam

The knee is one of the most important joints in the human body, and it is essential for movement and weight-bearing activities. A knee exam is a vital diagnostic tool for determining the health of the knee joint and identifying any potential abnormalities or injuries. Here are some of the main reasons why a knee exam is essential:

Injury and condition diagnosis: A knee exam can aid in the diagnosis of a variety of injuries and conditions, including ligament or cartilage tears, tendonitis, bursitis, arthritis, and patellar instability. Early detection is critical for quick treatment and the prevention of future injury or consequences.

Treatment planning: Based on the individual injury or condition, a knee assessment can assist healthcare specialists in developing an effective treatment plan. Depending on the severity of the injury or ailment, treatment may involve rest, physical therapy, medication, or surgery.

Injury prevention: A knee exam can assist in identifying any potential risk factors or imbalances that may contribute to knee problems. This data can be utilized to create a preventative strategy that includes workouts and stretches to strengthen the knee and prevent future injuries.

Assessment of healing progress: A knee exam can be performed to track the progress of an injury or condition’s healing and determine whether it is safe to resume normal activities.

Screening for Knee Problems: A knee exam can also be used as a screening technique to discover any underlying knee disorders or abnormalities, such as patellar tracking disorder or knee osteoarthritis.

A knee exam is an important tool for assessing knee joint health, diagnosing injuries and disorders, devising treatment plans, preventing injuries, assessing healing progress, and screening for knee problems. Individuals should schedule regular knee checkups with their healthcare provider, particularly if they engage in activities that place stress on the knee joint, such as sports or manual labour.

What are the differences between Physical examinations and Medical exams?

Physical and medical examinations are both vital components of healthcare, but their aim, scope, and frequency differ.

A physical examination is a clinical assessment performed by a healthcare provider to acquire information about the general health status of a patient. It entails a variety of procedures such as observation, palpation, percussion, and auscultation to assess the patient’s physical health. Physical examinations are often performed as part of a standard health checkup once a year, and they are frequently used to discover potential health issues before they become serious.

A medical examination, on the other hand, is a more detailed assessment of a patient’s health status. A physician normally performs it, which includes a complete medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests. Medical examinations are typically performed when a patient exhibits specific symptoms or conditions, or when a patient is applying for a job that necessitates a medical exam, such as a commercial driver’s license.

Medical examinations are more thorough than physical examinations, and they may include extra tests and procedures to evaluate specific health disorders or concerns, such as blood testing, urine tests, and imaging studies. Medical exams may also be required for insurance purposes or to assess a patient’s fitness for a certain sport or career.


Physical examination is an important element of healthcare since it allows healthcare providers to learn about a patient’s general health status. Using a combination of approaches, healthcare personnel can detect irregularities, assess the efficacy of therapies, and track a patient’s health over time. Physical examination procedures can help uncover potential health issues before they become serious by including them in routine health checks. As a result, it is critical that healthcare personnel are proficient in physical examination procedures and can employ them to give the best possible treatment to their patients.

You May Also Like

Anatomy and Physiology Quiz

100 Most Important Nursing Questions and Answers – Click Here

Please Subscribe to Our YouTube channel – The Nurse

Like our Facebook Page: The Nurse

Please Subscribe to get all our posts in your mail inbox

Subscribe Us