Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide

Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide

Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide

Physical assessment is an inevitable procedure not just for nurses but also for doctors. Establishing a good assessment would later-on provide a more accurate diagnosis, planning, and better interventions and evaluation, that’s why it’s important to have a good and strong assessment.

Below is your ultimate guide in performing a head-to-toe physical assessment. You might want to print a copy and bring it during your hospital duty, making your physical assessment better and more accurate!

Skull, Scalp & Hair

  • Observe the size, shape, and contour of the skull.
  • Observe scalp in several areas by separating the hair at various locations; inquire about any injuries. Note presence of lice, nits, dandruff or lesions.
  • Palpate the head by running the pads of the fingers over the entire surface of the skull; inquire about tenderness upon doing so. (wear gloves if necessary)
  • Observe and feel the hair condition. Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide.

Normal Findings:



  • Generally round, with prominences in the frontal and occipital area. (Normocephalic).
  • No tenderness noted upon palpation.


  • Lighter in color than the complexion.
  • Can be moist or oily.
  • No scars noted.
  • Free from lice, nits, and dandruff.
  • No lesions should be noted.
  • No tenderness or masses on palpation.
  • Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide


  • Can be black, brown or burgundy depending on the race.
  • Evenly distributed covers the whole scalp
  • No evidence of Alopecia
  • Maybe thick or thin, coarse or smooth.
  • Neither brittle nor dry.


  • Observe the face for shape.
  • Inspect for Symmetry.
    • Inspect for the palpebral fissure (distance between the eyelids); should be equal in both eyes.
    • Ask the patient to smile, There should be bilateral Nasolabial fold (creases extending from the angle of the corner of the mouth) Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide. Slight asymmetry in the fold is normal.
    • If both are met, then the Face is symmetrical
  • Test the functioning of Cranial Nerves that innervates the facial structures

CN V (Trigeminal)

1. Sensory Function

  • Ask the client to close the eyes.
  • Run cotton wisp over the forehead, cheek, and jaw on both sides of the face.
  • Ask the client if he/she feels it, and where she feels it.
  • Check for corneal reflex using cotton wisp.
  • The normal response in blinking.

2. Motor function

  • Ask the client to chew or clench the jaw.
  • The client should be able to clench or chew with strength and force.

CN VII (Facial)

1. Sensory function (This nerve innervate the anterior 2/3 of the tongue).


  • Place a sweet, sour, salty, or bitter substance near the tip of the tongue.
  • Normally, the client can identify the taste. Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide.

2. Motor function

  • Ask the client to smile, frown, raise eyebrow, close eyelids, whistle, or puff the cheeks.

Normal Findings

  • Shape may be oval or rounded.
  • Face is symmetrical.
  • No involuntary muscle movements.
  • Can move facial muscles at will.
  • Intact cranial nerve V and VII.

Eyebrows, Eyes, and Eyelashes

  • All three structures are assessed using the modality of inspection.

Normal findings


  • Symmetrical and in line with each other.
  • Maybe black, brown or blond depending on race.
  • Evenly distributed.
Severe exophthalmos


  • Evenly placed and inline with each other.
  • None protruding.
  • Equal palpebral fissure.


  • Color dependent on race.
  • Evenly distributed.
  • Turned outward.

Eyelids and Lacrimal Apparatus

  • Inspect the eyelids for position and symmetry.
  • Palpate the eyelids for the lacrimal glands.
    • To examine the lacrimal gland, the examiner, lightly slide the pad of the index finger against the client’s upper orbital rim.
    • Inquire for any pain or tenderness.
  • Palpate for the nasolacrimal duct to check for obstruction. Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide.
    • To assess the nasolacrimal duct, the examiner presses with the index finger against the client’s lower inner orbital rim, at the lacrimal sac, NOT AGAINST THE NOSE.
    • In the presence of blockage, this will cause regurgitation of fluid in the puncta

Normal Findings


  • Upper eyelids cover the small portion of the iris, cornea, and sclera when eyes are open.
  • No PTOSIS noted. (Drooping of upper eyelids).
  • Meets completely when eyes are closed.
  • Symmetrical.

Lacrimal Apparatus

  • Lacrimal gland is normally non palpable.
  • No tenderness on palpation.
  • No regurgitation from the nasolacrimal duct.
  • Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide


  • The bulbar and palpebral conjunctivae are examined by separating the eyelids widely and having the client look up, down and to each side. When separating the lids, the examiner should exert NO PRESSURE against the eyeball; rather, the examiner should hold the lids against the ridges of the bony orbit surrounding the eye.

In examining the palpebral conjunctiva, everting the upper eyelid in necessary and is done as follow:

  1. Ask the client to look down but keep his eyes slightly open. This relaxes the levator muscles, whereas closing the eyes contracts the orbicularis muscle, preventing lid eversion.
  2. Gently grasp the upper eyelashes and pull gently downward. Do not pull the lashes outward or upward; this, too, causes muscles contraction.
  3. Place a cotton tip application about I can above the lid margin and push gently downward with the applicator while still holding the lashes. This everts the lid.
  4. Hold the lashes of the everted lid against the upper ridge of the bony orbit, just beneath the eyebrow, never pushing against the eyebrow.
  5. Examine the lid for swelling, infection, and presence of foreign objects.
  6. To return the lid to its normal position, move the lid slightly forward and ask the client to look up and to blink. The lid returns easily to its normal position.

Normal Findings


  • Both conjunctivae are pinkish or red in color.
  • With presence of many minutes capillaries.
  • Moist
  • No ulcers
  • No foreign objects


  • The sclerae are easily inspected during the assessment of the conjunctivae.

Normal Findings

  • Sclerae is white in color (anicteric sclera)
  • No yellowish discoloration (icteric sclera).
  • Some capillaries may be visible.
  • Some people may have pigmented positions.


  • The cornea is best inspected by directing penlight obliquely from several positions.

Normal findings

  • There should be no irregularities on the surface.
  • Looks smooth.
  • The cornea is clear or transparent. The features of the iris should be fully visible through the cornea.
  • There is a positive corneal reflex.

Anterior Chamber and Iris

  • The anterior chamber and the iris are easily inspected in conjunction with the cornea. The technique of oblique illumination is also useful in assessing the anterior chamber.

Normal Findings

  • The anterior chamber is transparent.
  • No noted any visible materials.
  • Color of the iris depends on the person’s race (black, blue, brown or green).
  • From the side view, the iris should appear flat and should not be bulging forward. There should be NO crescent shadow casted on the other side when illuminated from one side.


  • Examination of the pupils involves several inspections, including assessment of the size, shape reaction to light is directed is observed for direct response of constriction. Simultaneously, the other eye is observed for consensual response of constriction.
  • The test for papillary accommodation is the examination for the change in papillary size as it is switched from a distant to a near object.
  • Ask the client to stare at the objects across the room.
  • Then ask the client to fix his gaze on the examiner’s index fingers, which is placed 5 – 5 inches from the client’s nose.
  • Visualization of distant objects normally causes papillary dilation and visualization of nearer objects causes papillary constriction and convergence of the eye.

Normal Findings

  • Pupillary size ranges from 3 – 7 mm, and are equal in size.
  • Equally round.
  • Constrict briskly/sluggishly when light is directed to the eye, both directly and consensual.
  • Pupils dilate when looking at distant objects, and constrict when looking at nearer objects.
  • If all of which are met, we document the findings using the notation PERRLA, pupils equally round, reactive to light and accommodation.
A Snellen chart

Cranial Nerve II (optic nerve)

  • The optic nerve is assessed by testing for visual acuity and peripheral vision.
  • Visual acuity is tested using a Snellen chart, for those who are illiterate and unfamiliar with the western alphabet, the illiterate E chart, in which the letter E faces in different directions, may be used.
  • The chart has a standardized number at the end of each line of letters; these numbers indicate the degree of visual acuity when measured at a distance of 20 feet.
  • The numerator 20 is the distance in feet between the chart and the client, or the standard testing distance. The denominator 20 is the distance from which the normal eye can read the lettering, which corresponds to the number at the end of each letter line; therefore the larger the denominator the poorer the version.
  • Measurement of 20/20 vision is an indication of either refractive error or some other optic disorder.
  • In testing for visual acuity you may refer to the following:
    • The room used for this test should be well lighted.
    • A person who wears corrective lenses should be tested with and without them to check for the adequacy of correction.
    • Only one eye should be tested at a time; the other eye should be covered by an opaque card or eye cover, not with client’s finger.
    • Make the client read the chart by pointing at a letter randomly at each line; maybe started from largest to smallest or vice versa.
    • A person who can read the largest letter on the chart (20/200) should be checked if they can perceive hand movement about 12 inches from their eyes, or if they can perceive the light of the penlight directed to their yes.

Peripheral vision or visual fields

  • The assessment of visual acuity is indicative of the functioning of the macular area, the area of central vision. However, it does not test the sensitivity of the other areas of the retina which perceive the more peripheral stimuli. The Visual field confrontation test, provide a rather gross measurement of peripheral vision.
  • The performance of this test assumes that the examiner has normal visual fields, since that client’s visual fields are to be compared with the examiners.

Follow the steps on conducting the test:

  • The examiner and the client sit or stand opposite each other, with the eyes at the same, horizontal level with the distance of 1.5 – 2 feet apart.
  • The client covers the eye with an opaque card, and the examiner covers the eye that is opposite to the client covered eye.
  • Instruct the client to stare directly at the examiner’s eye, while the examiner stares at the client’s open eye. Neither looks out at the object approaching from the periphery.
  • The examiner holds an object such as pencil or penlight, in his hand and gradually moves it in from the periphery of both directions horizontally and from above and below.
  • Normally the client should see the same time the examiners see it. The normal visual field is 180 degrees.

Cranial Nerve III, IV & VI (Oculomotor, Trochlear, Abducens)


  • All the 3 Cranial nerves are tested at the same time by assessing the Extra Ocular Movement (EOM) or the six cardinal position of gaze.

Follow the given steps:

  • Stand directly in front of the client and hold a finger or a penlight about 1 ft from the client’s eyes.
  • Instruct the client to follow the direction the object held by the examiner by eye movements only; that is without moving the neck.
  • The nurse moves the object in a clockwise direction hexagonally.
  • Instruct the client to fix his gaze momentarily on the extreme position in each of the six cardinal gazes.
  • The examiner should watch for any jerky movements of the eye (nystagmus).
  • Normally the client can hold the position and there should be no nystagmus.


  • Inspect the auricles of the ears for parallelism, size position, appearance and skin color.
  • Palpate the auricles and the mastoid process for firmness of the cartilage of the auricles, tenderness when manipulating the auricles and the mastoid process.
  • Inspect the auditory meatus or the ear canal for color, presence of cerumen, discharges, and foreign bodies.
  • For adult pull the pinna upward and backward to straighten the canal.
  • For children pull the pinna downward and backward to straighten the canal
  • Perform otoscopic examination of the tympanic membrane, noting the color and landmarks.

Normal Findings

  • The earlobes are bean-shaped, parallel, and symmetrical.
  • The upper connection of the ear lobe is parallel with the outer canthus of the eye.
  • Skin is the same in color as in the complexion.
  • No lesions noted on inspection.
  • The auricles have firm cartilage on palpation.
  • The pinna recoils when folded.
  • There is no pain or tenderness on the palpation of the auricles and mastoid process.
  • The ear canal has normally some cerumen of inspection.
  • No discharges or lesions noted at the ear canal.
  • On otoscopic examination, the tympanic membrane appears flat, translucent and pearly gray in color.

Nose and Paranasal Sinuses

  • The external portion of the nose is inspected for the following:
    • Placement and symmetry.
    • Patency of nares (done by occluding nostril one at a time, and noting for difficulty in breathing)
    • Flaring of alae nasi
    • Discharge
  • The external nares are palpated for:
    • Displacement of bone and cartilage.
    • For tenderness and masses
    • The internal nares are inspected by hyperextending the neck of the client, the ulnar aspect of the examiners hard over the forehead of the client, and using the thumb to push the tip of the nose upward while shining a light into the nares.
  • Inspect for the following:
    • Position of the septum.
    • Check septum for perforation. (Can also be checked by directing the lighted penlight on the side of the nose, illumination at the other side suggests perforation).
    • The nasal mucosa (turbinates) for swelling, exudates, and change in color.

Paranasal Sinuses

  • Examination of the paranasal sinuses is indirect. Information about their condition is gained by inspection and palpation of the overlying tissues. Only frontal and maxillary sinuses are accessible for examination.
  • By palpating both cheeks simultaneously, one can determine tenderness of the maxillary sinusitis, and pressing the thumb just below the eyebrows, we can determine tenderness of the frontal sinuses.

Normal Findings

  • Nose in the midline
  • No Discharges.
  • No flaring alae nasi.
  • Both nares are patent.
  • No bone and cartilage deviation noted on palpation.
  • No tenderness noted on palpation.
  • Nasal septum in the midline and not perforated.
  • The nasal mucosa is pinkish to red in color. (Increased redness turbinates are typical of allergy).
  • No tenderness noted on palpation of the paranasal sinuses.

Cranial Nerve I (Olfactory Nerve)

  • To test the adequacy of function of the olfactory nerve:
    • The client is asked to close his eyes and occlude.
    • The examiner places aromatic and easily distinguish nose. (E.g. alcohol, vinegar, coffee).
    • Ask the client to identify the odor.
    • Each side is tested separately, ideally with two different substances.

Mouth and Oropharynx Lips

Inspected for:

  • Symmetry and surface abnormalities.
  • Color
  • Edema

Normal Findings:

  • With visible margin
  • Symmetrical in appearance and movement
  • Pinkish in color
  • No edema


  • Palpate while the mouth is opened wide and then closed for:
    • Crepitus
    • Deviations
    • Tenderness

Normal Findings:


  • Moves smoothly no crepitous.
  • No deviations noted
  • No pain or tenderness on palpation and jaw movement.


Inspected for:

  • Color
  • Bleeding
  • Retraction of gums.

Normal Findings:

  • Pinkish in color
  • No gum bleeding
  • No receding gums


Inspected for:

  • Number
  • Color
  • Dental caries
  • Dental fillings
  • Alignment and malocclusions (2 teeth in the space for 1, or overlapping teeth).
  • Tooth loss
  • Breath should also be assessed during the process.

Normal Findings

  • 28 for children and 32 for adults.
  • White to yellowish in color
  • With or without dental caries and/or dental fillings.
  • With or without malocclusions.
  • No halitosis.


Palpated for:

  • Texture

Normal Findings:


  • Pinkish with white taste buds on the surface.
  • No lesions noted.
  • No varicosities on ventral surface.
  • Frenulum is thin attaches to the posterior 1/3 of the ventral aspect of the tongue.
  • Gag reflex is present.
  • Able to move the tongue freely and with strength.
  • Surface of the tongue is rough.


Inspected for:

  • Position
  • Color
  • Cranial Nerve X (Vagus nerve) – Tested by asking the client to say “Ah” note that the uvula will move upward and forward.

Normal Findings:

  • Positioned in the midline.
  • Pinkish to red in color.
  • No swelling or lesion noted.
  • Moves upward and backward when asked to say “ah”


Inspected for:

  • Inflammation
  • Size
  • A Grading system used to describe the size of the tonsils can be used.
    • Grade 1 – Tonsils behind the pillar.
    • Grade 2 – Between pillar and uvula.
    • Grade 3 – Touching the uvula
    • Grade 4 – In the midline.


  • The neck is inspected for position symmetry and obvious lumps visibility of the thyroid gland and Jugular Venous Distension
  • Check the Range of Movement of the neck.

Normal Findings:

  • The neck is straight.
  • No visible mass or lumps.
  • Symmetrical
  • No jugular venous distension (suggestive of cardiac congestion).
  • The neck is palpated just above the suprasternal note using the thumb and the index finger.

Normal Findings:

  • The trachea is palpable.
  • It is positioned in the line and straight.
  • Lymph nodes are palpated using palmar tips of the fingers via systemic circular movements. Describe lymph nodes in terms of size, regularity, consistency, tenderness, and fixation to surrounding tissues. Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide.

Normal Findings:

  • May not be palpable. Maybe normally palpable in thin clients.
  • Non-tender if palpable.
  • Firm with smooth rounded surface.
  • Slightly movable.
  • About less than 1 cm in size.
  • The thyroid is initially observed by standing in front of the client and asking the client to swallow. Palpation of the thyroid can be done either by posterior or anterior approach.

Posterior Approach:

  1. Let the client sit on a chair while the examiner stands behind him.
  2. In examining the isthmus of the thyroid, locate the cricoid cartilage and directly below that is the isthmus.
  3. Ask the client to swallow while feeling for any enlargement of the thyroid isthmus.
  4. To facilitate examination of each lobe, the client is asked to turn his head slightly toward the side to be examined to displace the sternocleidomastoid, while the other hand of the examiner pushes the thyroid cartilage towards the side of the thyroid lobe to be examined.
  5. Ask the patient to swallow as the procedure is being done.
  6. The examiner may also palate for thyroid enlargement by placing the thumb deep to and behind the sternocleidomastoid muscle, while the index and middle fingers are placed deep to and in front of the muscle.
  7. Then the procedure is repeated on the other side.

Anterior approach:

  1. The examiner stands in front of the client and with the palmar surface of the middle and index fingers palpate below the cricoid cartilage.
  2. Ask the client to swallow while palpation is being done.
  3. In palpating the lobes of the thyroid, similar procedure is done as in posterior approach. The client is asked to turn his head slightly to one side and then the other of the lobe to be examined.
  4. Again the examiner displaces the thyroid cartilage towards the side of the lobe to be examined.
  5. Again, the examiner palpates the area and hooks thumb and fingers around the sternocleidomastoid muscle.

Normal Findings:

  • Normally the thyroid is non-palpable.
  • Isthmus may be visible in a thin neck.
  • No nodules are palpable.
  • Auscultation of the Thyroid is necessary when there is thyroid enlargement. The examiner may hear bruits, as a result of increased and turbulence in blood flow in an enlarged thyroid. Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide.

Thorax (Cardiovascular System)

Inspection of the Heart

  • The chest wall and epigastrium is inspected while the client is in supine position. Observe for pulsation and heaves or lifts

Normal Findings:

  • Pulsation of the apical impulse may be visible. (this can give us some indication of the cardiac size).
  • There should be no lift or heaves.

Palpation of the Heart

  • The entire precordium is palpated methodically using the palms and the fingers, beginning at the apex, moving to the left sternal border, and then to the base of the heart.

Normal Findings:

  • No, palpable pulsation over the aortic, pulmonic, and mitral valves.
  • Apical pulsation can be felt on palpation.
  • There should be no noted abnormal heaves, and thrills felt over the apex.

Percussion of the Heart

  • The technique of percussion is of limited value in cardiac assessment. It can be used to determine borders of cardiac dullness.

Auscultation of the Heart

  • Anatomic areas for auscultation of the heart:
  • Aortic valve – Right 2nd ICS sternal border.
  • Pulmonic Valve – Left 2nd ICS sternal border.
  • Tricuspid Valve – – Left 5th ICS sternal border.
  • Mitral Valve – Left 5th ICS midclavicular line

Positioning the client for auscultation:

  1. If the heart sounds are faint or undetectable, try listening to them with the patient seated and leaning forward, or lying on his left side, which brings the heart closer to the surface of the chest.
  2. Having the client seated and leaning forward is best suited for hearing high-pitched sounds related to semilunar valves problem.
  3. The left lateral recumbent position is best suited low-pitched sounds, such as mitral valve problems and extra heart sounds.

Auscultating the heart:

  1. Auscultate the heart in all anatomic areas aortic, pulmonic, tricuspid and mitral
  2. Listen for the S1 and S2 sounds (S1 closure of AV valves; S2 closure of semilunar valve). S1 sound is best heard over the mitral valve; S2 is best heard over the aortic valve.
  3. Listen for abnormal heart sounds e.g. S3, S4, and Murmurs.
  4. Count heart rate at the apical pulse for one full minute.
Auscultation of Heart Sounds
Auscultation of Heart Sounds

Normal Findings:

  • S1 & S2 can be heard at all anatomic site.
  • No abnormal heart sounds are heard (e.g. Murmurs, S3 & S4).
  • Cardiac rate ranges from 60 – 100 bpm.


Inspection of the Breast

  • There are 4 major sitting position of the client used for clinical breast examination. Every client should be examined in each position.
    • The client is seated with her arms on her side.
    • The client is seated with her arms abducted over the head.
    • The client is seated and is pushing her hands into her hips, simultaneously eliciting contraction of the pectoral muscles.
    • The client is seated and is learning over while the examiner assists in supporting and balancing her.
  • While the client is performing these maneuvers, the breasts are carefully observed for symmetry, bulging, retraction, and fixation.
  • An abnormality may not be apparent in the breasts at rest a mass may cause the breasts, through invasion of the suspensory ligaments, to fix, preventing them from upward movement in position 2 and 4.
  • Position 3 specifically assists in eliciting dimpling if a mass has infiltrated and shortened suspensory ligaments.

Normal Findings:

  • The overlying the breast should be even.
  • May or may not be completely symmetrical at rest.
  • The areola is rounded or oval, with same color, (Color varies from light pink to dark brown depending on race).
  • Nipples are rounded, everted, same size and equal in color.
  • No “orange peel” skin is noted which is present in edema.
  • The veins may be visible but not engorge and prominent.
  • No obvious mass noted. Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide.
  • Not fixated and moves bilaterally when hands are abducted over the head, or is leaning forward.
  • No retractions or dimpling.

Palpation of the Breast

  • Palpate the breast along imaginary concentric circles, following a clockwise rotary motion, from the periphery to the center going to the nipples. Be sure that the breast is adequately surveyed. Breast examination is best done 1-week post menses.
  • Each areolar areas are carefully palpated to determine the presence of underlying masses.
  • Each nipple is gently compressed to assess for the presence of masses or discharge.

Normal Findings:

  • No lumps or masses are palpable.
  • No tenderness upon palpation.
  • No discharges from the nipples.
  • NOTE: The male breasts are observed by adapting the techniques used for female clients. However, the various sitting position used for woman is unnecessary.


  • In abdominal assessment, be sure that the client has emptied the bladder for comfort. Place the client in a supine position with the knees slightly flexed to relax abdominal muscles.

Inspection of the abdomen

  • Inspect for skin integrity (Pigmentation, lesions, striae, scars, veins, and umbilicus).
  • Contour (flat, rounded, scaphoid) Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide
  • Distension
  • Respiratory movement.
  • Visible peristalsis.
  • Pulsations

Normal Findings:

  • Skin color is uniform, no lesions.
  • Some clients may have striae or scar.
  • No venous engorgement.
  • Contour may be flat, rounded or scaphoid
  • Thin clients may have visible peristalsis.
  • Aortic pulsation may be visible on thin clients.

Auscultation of the Abdomen

  • This method precedes percussion because bowel motility, and thus bowel sounds, may be increased by palpation or percussion.
  • The stethoscope and the hands should be warmed; if they are cold, they may initiate contraction of the abdominal muscles.
  • Light pressure on the stethoscope is sufficient to detect bowel sounds and bruits. Intestinal sounds are relatively high-pitched, the bell may be used in exploring arterial murmurs and venous hum.

Peristaltic sounds

  • These sounds are produced by the movements of air and fluids through the gastrointestinal tract. Peristalsis can provide diagnostic clues relevant to the motility of bowel.
  • Listening to the bowel sounds (borborygmi) can be facilitated by following these steps:
    • Divide the abdomen into four quadrants.
    • Listen over all auscultation sites, starting at the right lower quadrants, following the cross pattern of the imaginary lines in creating the abdominal quadrants Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide. This direction ensures that we follow the direction of bowel movement.
    • Peristaltic sounds are quite irregular. Thus it is recommended that the examiner listen for at least 5 minutes, especially at the periumbilical area, before concluding that no bowel sounds are present.
    • The normal bowel sounds are high-pitched, gurgling noises that occur approximately every 5 – 15 seconds. It is suggested that the number of bowel sound may be as low as 3 to as high as 20 per minute, or roughly, one bowel sound for each breath sound.
    • Some factors that affect bowel sound:
      • Presence of food in the GI tract.
      • State of digestion.
      • Pathologic conditions of the bowel (inflammation, Gangrene, paralytic ileus, peritonitis).
      • Bowel surgery
      • Constipation or Diarrhea.
      • Electrolyte imbalances.
      • Bowel obstruction.

Percussion of the abdomen

  • Abdominal percussion is aimed at detecting fluid in the peritoneum (ascites), gaseous distension, and masses, and in assessing solid structures within the abdomen.
  • The direction of abdominal percussion follows the auscultation site at each abdominal guardant. Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide.
  • The entire abdomen should be percussed lightly or a general picture of the areas of tympany and dullness.
  • Tympany will predominate because of the presence of gas in the small and large bowel. Solid masses will percuss as dull, such as liver in the RUQ, spleen at the 6th or 9th rib just posterior to or at the midaxillary line on the left side.
  • Percussion in the abdomen can also be used in assessing the liver span and size of the spleen.

Percussion of the liver

  • The palms of the left hand are placed over the region of liver dullness.
  • The area is strucked lightly with a fisted right hand.
  • Normally tenderness should not be elicited by this method.
  • Tenderness elicited by this method is usually a result of hepatitis or cholecystitis.

Renal Percussion

  • Can be done by either indirect or direct method.
  • Percussion is done over the costovertebral junction.
  • Tenderness elicited by such method suggests renal inflammation.

Palpation of the Abdomen

Light palpation

  • It is a gentle exploration performed while the client is in supine position. With the examiner’s hands parallel to the floor.
  • The fingers depress the abdominal wall, at each quadrant, by approximately 1 cm without digging, but gently palpating with slow circular motion.
  • This method is used for eliciting slight tenderness, large masses, and muscles, and muscle guarding.
  • Tensing of abdominal musculature may occur because of:
    • The examiner’s hands are too cold or are pressed to vigorously or deep into the abdomen. Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide.
    • The client is ticklish or guards involuntarily.
    • Presence of subjacent pathologic condition.

Normal Findings:

  • No tenderness noted.
  • With smooth and consistent tension.
  • No muscles guarding.

Deep Palpation

  • It is the indentation of the abdomen performed by pressing the distal half of the palmar surfaces of the fingers into the abdominal wall.
  • The abdominal wall may slide back and forth while the fingers move back and forth over the organ being examined.
  • Deeper structures, like the liver, and retroperitoneal organs, like the kidneys, or masses may be felt with this method.
  • In the absence of disease, pressure produced by deep palpation may produce tenderness over the cecum, the sigmoid colon, and the aorta.

Liver palpation

  • There are two types of bimanual palpation recommended for palpation of the liver. The first one is the superimposition of the right hand over the left hand.
    • Ask the patient to take 3 normal breaths.
    • Then ask the client to breathe deeply and hold. This would push the liver down to facilitate palpation.
    • Press hand deeply over the RUQ
  • The second methods:
    • The examiner’s left hand is placed beneath the client at the level of the right 11th and 12th ribs. Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide.
    • Place the examiner’s right hands parallel to the costal margin or the RUQ.
    • An upward pressure is placed beneath the client to push the liver towards the examining right hand, while the right hand is pressing into the abdominal wall.
    • Ask the client to breathe deeply.
    • As the client inspires, the liver maybe felt to slip beneath the examining fingers.

Normal Findings:

  • The liver usually cannot be palpated in a normal adult. However, in extremely thin but otherwise well individuals, it may be felt the coastal margins.
  • When the normal liver margin is palpated, it must be smooth, regular in contour, firm and non-tender.



  • Observe for size, contour, bilateral symmetry, and involuntary movement.
  • Look for gross deformities, edema, presence of trauma such as ecchymosis or other discoloration.
  • Always compare both extremities.


  • Feel for evenness of temperature. Normally it should be even for all the extremities.
  • Tonicity of muscle. (Can be measured by asking client to squeeze examiner’s fingers and noting for equality of contraction).
  • Perform range of motion.
  • Test for muscle strength. (performed against gravity and against resistance)
  • Table showing the Lovett scale for grading for muscle strength and functional level
Functional level Lovett Scale Grade Percentage of normal
No evidence of contractility Zero (Z) 0 0
Evidence of slight contractility Trace (T) 1 10
Complete ROM without gravity Poor (P) 2 25
Complete ROM with gravity Fair (F) 3 50
Complete range of motion against gravity with some resistance Good (G) 4 75
Complete range of motion against gravity with full resistance Normal (N) 5 100

Normal Findings

  • Both extremities are equal in size.
  • Have the same contour with prominences of joints.
  • No involuntary movements.
  • No edema
  • Color is even.
  • Temperature is warm and even.
  • Has equal contraction and even.
  • Can perform complete range of motion.
  • No crepitus must be noted on joints.
  • Can counteract gravity and resistance on ROM.
  • Head-to-Toe Physical Assessment Guide


Get your paper now

We complete all papers from scratch. You can get a plagiarism report.

Price (USD)

How Essay Writing Service Works

5fa28cad62c25b76976fa0ec_Sign Up

Place an Order &
Choose a Writer

You need to fill out a short order form and specify all the needed requirements. Then writers will start bidding your order and it’s up to you which one to choose as each of them is a professional. Ask our manager to help you out if you have any doubts.

5fa28caa634be16bebb3048e_Pick Writer

Chat with a Writer & Review a Paper

You can chat with your writer directly and clarify all the points in the process of writing. Once you received an email with a notification, you will then have an unlimited number of revisions. Ask your writer to make adjustments to your paper or switch things up to fit your taste.


Post-Satisfaction Payment

You need to deposit ⅓ of the sum in the beginning to make the writer begin working on your order. After you’re certain that the paper is done correctly, thank your writer for the good job and release the funds.

Get Started

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top