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List of terms related to Palpation

Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


Palpation is used as part of a physical examination in which an object is felt (usually with the hands of a healthcare practitioner) to determine its size, shape, firmness, or location. Palpation should not be confused with palpitation, which is an awareness of the beating of the heart.


In the assessment of patients with pain conditions, practitioners (e.g. chiropractors, doctors of osteopathic medicine, physical therapists, and massage therapists) may use palpation to feel for tissue texture (e.g. swelling or muscle tone), to assess range and quality of joint motion, and to assess tenderness through tissue deformation (e.g. provoking pain with pressure or stretching). The scientific literature has shown that motion palpation is often unreliable between practitioners. In contrast, manual tests that provoke or relieve pain have been shown to be more reliable.

Palpation is typically employed for thoracic and abdominal examinations, but can also be used to diagnose edema and measure the pulse. It is used by veterinarians to check animals for pregnancy, and by midwives to determine the position of a fetus.

See also


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