SCIENCE EDUCATION > Clinical Skills

Physical Examinations III

This collection covers physical examination of two major systems in our body: neurological and musculoskeletal, with videos explaining relevant anatomy, the rationale behind the steps, and the interpretation of the exam findings.

  • Physical Examinations III

    13:22
    Cranial Nerves Exam I (I-VI)

    Source:Tracey A. Milligan, MD; Tamara B. Kaplan, MD; Neurology, Brigham and Women's/Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

    During each section of the neurological testing, the examiner uses the powers of observation to assess the patient. In some cases, cranial nerve dysfunction is readily apparent: a patient might mention a characteristic chief complaint (such as loss of smell or diplopia), or a visually evident physical sign of cranial nerve involvement, such as in facial nerve palsy. However, in many cases a patient's history doesn't directly suggest cranial nerve pathologies, as some of them (such as sixth nerve palsy) may have subtle manifestations and can only be uncovered by a careful neurological exam. Importantly, a variety of pathological conditions that are associated with alterations in mental status (such as some neurodegenerative disorders or brain lesions) can also cause cranial nerve dysfunction; therefore, any abnormal findings during a mental status exam should prompt a careful and complete neurological exam. The cranial nerve examination is applied neuroanatomy. The cranial nerves are symmetrical; therefore, while performing the examination, the examiner should compare each side to the other. A physician should approach the examination in a systematic fashion and go through the cranial nerves in their numerical order. I Olfactory Sme

  • Physical Examinations III

    11:13
    Cranial Nerves Exam II (VII-XII)

    Source:Tracey A. Milligan, MD; Tamara B. Kaplan, MD; Neurology, Brigham and Women's/Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

    The cranial nerve examination follows the mental status evaluation in a neurological exam. However, the examination begins with observations made upon greeting the patient. For example, weakness of the facial muscles (which are innervated by cranial nerve VII) can be readily apparent during the first encounter with the patient. Cranial nerve VII (the facial nerve) also has sensory branches, which innervate the taste buds on the anterior two-thirds of the tongue and the medial aspect of the external auditory canal. Therefore, finding ipsilateral taste dysfunction in a patient with facial weakness confirms the involvement of cranial nerve VII. In addition, knowledge of the neuroanatomy helps the clinician to localize the level of the lesion: unilateral weakness of the lower facial muscles suggests a supranuclear lesion on the opposite side, while lesions involving the nuclear or infranuclear portion of the facial nerve manifest with an ipsilateral paralysis of all the facial muscles on the involved side. Cranial nerve VIII (the acoustic nerve) has two divisions: the hearing (cochlear) division and the vestibular division, which innervates the semicircular canals and plays an important role in maintaining balance. During a routine neurological examination, special testing o

  • Physical Examinations III

    11:11
    Motor Exam I

    Source:Tracey A. Milligan, MD; Tamara B. Kaplan, MD; Neurology, Brigham and Women's/Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

    Abnormalities in the motor function are associated with a wide range of diseases, from movement disorders and myopathies to strokes. The motor assessment starts with observation of the patient. When the patient enters the examination area, the clinician observes the patient's ability to walk unassisted and the speed and coordination while moving. Taking the patient's history provides an additional opportunity to observe for evidence of tremors or other abnormal movements, such as chorea or tardive dyskinesia. Such simple but important observations can yield valuable clues to the diagnosis and help to focus the rest of the examination. The motor assessment continues in a systematic fashion, including inspection for muscle atrophy and abnormal movements, assessment of muscle tone, muscle strength testing, and finally the examination of the muscle reflexes and coordination. The careful systematic testing of the motor system and the integration of all the findings provide insight to the level at which the motor pathway is affected, and also help the clinician to formulate the differential diagnosis and determine the course of the subsequent evaluation and treatment.

  • Physical Examinations III

    14:04
    Motor Exam II

    Source:Tracey A. Milligan, MD; Tamara B. Kaplan, MD; Neurology, Brigham and Women's/Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

    There are two main types of reflexes that are tested on a neurological examination: stretch (or deep tendon reflexes) and superficial reflexes. A deep tendon reflex (DTR) results from the stimulation of a stretch-sensitive afferent from a neuromuscular spindle, which, via a single synapse, stimulates a motor nerve leading to a muscle contraction. DTRs are increased in chronic upper motor neuron lesions (lesions of the pyramidal tract) and decreased in lower motor neuron lesions and nerve and muscle disorders. There is a wide variation of responses and reflexes graded from 0 to 4+ (Table 1). DTRs are commonly tested to help localize neurologic disorders. A common method of recording findings during the DTR examination is using a stick figure diagram. The DTR test can help distinguish upper and lower motor neuron problems, and can assist in localizing nerve root compression as well. Although the DTR of nearly any skeletal muscle could be tested, the reflexes that are routinely tested are: brachioradialis, biceps, triceps, patellar, and Achilles (Table 2). Superficial reflexes are segmental reflex responses that result from stimulation of a specific sensory input (cutaneous or conjunctival) and the corresponding motor response. These reflexes include the corn

  • Physical Examinations III

    13:10
    Sensory Exam

    Source:Tracey A. Milligan, MD; Tamara B. Kaplan, MD; Neurology, Brigham and Women's/Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

    A complete sensory examination consists of testing primary sensory modalities as well as cortical sensory function. Primary sensory modalities include pain, temperature, light touch, vibration, and joint position sense. Sensation of the face is discussed in the videos Cranial Nerves Exam I and II, as are the special senses of smell, vision, taste, and hearing. The spinothalamic tract mediates pain and temperature information from skin to thalamus. The spinothalamic fibers decussate (cross over) 1-2 spinal nerve segments above the point of entry, then travel up to the brainstem until they synapse on various nuclei in thalamus. From the thalamus, information is then relayed to the cortical areas such as the postcentral gyrus (also known as the primary somatosensory cortex). Afferent fibers transmitting vibration and proprioception travel up to medulla in the ipsilateral posterior columns as fasciculus gracilis and fasciculus cuneatus, which carry information from the lower limbs and upper limbs, respectively. Subsequently, the afferent projections cross over and ascend to the thalamus, and from there to the primary somatosensory cortex. The pattern of a sensory loss can help to localize the lesion and determine the diagnosis. For example, testing the primary modali

  • Physical Examinations III

    09:52
    Neck Exam

    Source: Robert E. Sallis, MD. Kaiser Permanente, Fontana, California, USA

    Examination of the neck can be a challenge because of the many bones, joints, and ligaments that make up the underlying cervical spine. The cervical spine is composed of seven vertebrae stacked in gentle C-shaped curve. The anterior part of each vertebra is made up of the thick bony body, which is linked to the body above and below by intervertebral discs. These discs help provide stability and shock absorption to the cervical spine. The posterior elements of the vertebra, which include the laminae, transverse, and spinous processes and the facet joints, form a protective canal for the cervical spinal cord and its nerve roots. The cervical spine supports the head and protects the neural elements as they come from the brain and from the spinal cord. Therefore, injuries or disorders affecting the neck can also affect the underlying spinal cord and have potentially catastrophic consequences. The significant motion that occurs in the neck places the cervical spine at increased risk for injury and degenerative changes. The cervical spine is also a common source of radicular pain in the shoulder. For this reason, the neck should be evaluated as a routine part of every shoulder exam.

  • Physical Examinations III

    08:56
    Shoulder Exam I

    Source: Robert E. Sallis, MD. Kaiser Permanente, Fontana, California, USA

    Examination of the shoulder can be complex, because it actually consists of four separate joints: are the glenohumeral (GH) joint, the acromioclavicular (AC) joint, the sternoclavicular joint, and the scapulothoracic joint. The GH joint is primarily responsible for shoulder motion and is the most mobile joint in the body. It has been likened to a golf ball sitting on a tee and is prone to instability. It is held in place by the four rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis), along with the GH ligaments. The shoulder exam begins with the inspection and palpation of the key anatomic landmarks, followed by an assessment of the patient's range of motion. The opposite shoulder should be used as the standard to evaluate the injured shoulder, provided it has not been previously injured.

  • Physical Examinations III

    07:36
    Shoulder Exam II

    Source: Robert E. Sallis, MD. Kaiser Permanente, Fontana, California, USA

    The shoulder exam continues by checking the strength of the rotator cuff muscles and biceps tendons. The rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis) act as compressors, holding the humeral head in place against the glenoid. Injury and degeneration of the rotator cuff tendons are the most common sources of shoulder pain. The strength testing of the rotator muscle is performed by testing motions against resistance applied by the examiner. Pain with these resisted motions suggests tendonitis; weakness suggests a rotator cuff tear. The strength tested is followed by tests for impingement syndrome, shoulder instability, and labrum injury. It is important to test both of the shoulders and compare between the sides. The opposite shoulder should be used as the standard to evaluate the injured shoulder, provided it has not been injured as well.

  • Physical Examinations III

    10:07
    Elbow Exam

    Source: Robert E. Sallis, MD. Kaiser Permanente, Fontana, California, USA

    The elbow is a hinged joint that involves the articulation of 3 bones: the humerus, radius, and ulna. It is a much more stable joint than the shoulder, and because of that, the elbow has less range of motion. The elbow and its structures are prone to significant injuries, particularly with repetitive motion. Lateral and medial epicondylitis (also called tennis elbow and golfer's elbow) are two common diagnoses and often occur as a result of occupational activities. When examining the elbow, it is important to remove enough clothing so that the entire shoulder and elbow can be inspected. It is important to compare the injured elbow to the uninvolved side. A systematic evaluation of the elbow includes inspection, palpation, range of motion (ROM) testing, and special tests, including maneuvers to evaluate ligamentous stability and stretch tests to accentuate pain caused by epicondylitis.

  • Physical Examinations III

    12:23
    Wrist and Hand Examination

    Source: Robert E. Sallis, MD. Kaiser Permanente, Fontana, California, USA

    The wrist is a complex joint made up of 8 carpal bones and their numerous articulations and ligaments. Overlying the wrist are the tendons and muscles of the hand and fingers. The hand is made up of 5 metacarpal bones, and the tendons that run to the hand overlie these bones. Finally, the fingers consist of 14 phalanges with their articulations held together by collateral ligaments and volar plates. Common mechanisms of both acute and chronic wrist injury include impact, weight bearing (which can occur in gymnastics), twisting, and throwing. Osteoarthritis of the hand commonly affects distal interphalangeal (DIP) and proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joints, while rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is seen in the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) and PIP joints. It is important to compare the injured wrist or hand to the uninvolved side. Key aspects of the wrist and hand exam include inspection, palpation for tenderness or deformity, testing the range of motion (ROM) and strength, neurovascular assessment, ligaments and tendon testing, and the special tests.

  • Physical Examinations III

    07:52
    Lower Back Exam

    Source: Robert E. Sallis, MD. Kaiser Permanente, Fontana, California, USA

    The back is the most common source of pain in the body. Examination of the back can be a challenge due to its numerous structures, including the bones, discs, ligaments, nerves, and muscles-all of which can generate pain. Sometimes, the location of the pain can be suggestive of etiology. The essential components of the lower back exam include inspection and palpation for signs of deformity and inflammation, evaluation of the range of motion (ROM) of the back, testing the strength of the muscles innervated by the nerves exiting in the lumbar-sacral spine, neurological evaluation, and special tests (including the Stork test and Patrick's test).

  • Physical Examinations III

    09:58
    Hip Exam

    Source: Robert E. Sallis, MD. Kaiser Permanente, Fontana, California, USA

    The hip is a ball-and-socket joint that consists of the femoral head articulating with the acetabulum. When combined with the hip ligaments, the hip makes for a very strong and stable joint. But, despite this stability, the hip has considerable motion and is prone to degeneration with wear and tear over time and after injury. Hip pain can affect patients of all ages and can be associated with various intra- and extra-articular pathologies. Anatomic location of pain in the hip region can often provide initial diagnostic clues. Essential aspects of the hip exam include an inspection for asymmetry, swelling, and gait abnormalities; palpation for areas of tenderness; range of motion and strength testing; a neurological (sensory) exam; and additional special diagnostic maneuvers to narrow down the differential diagnosis.

  • Physical Examinations III

    12:00
    Knee Exam

    Source: Robert E. Sallis, MD. Kaiser Permanente, Fontana, California, USA

    The knee is a hinged joint that connects the femur with the tibia. It is the largest joint in the body, and due to its location in the middle of the lower leg, it is subjected to a variety of traumatic and degenerative forces. Examination of the knee can be quite complex, owing to the fact it is an inherently unstable joint held together by various ligaments and supported by menisci, which act as shock absorbers and increase the contact area of the joint. In addition, the patella lies in front of the knee, acting as a fulcrum to allow the forceful extension of the knee needed for running and kicking. As the largest sesamoid bone in the body, the knee is a common source of pain related to trauma or overuse. When examining the knee, it is important to remove enough clothing so that the entire thigh, knee, and lower leg are exposed. The exam begins with inspection and palpation of key anatomic landmarks, followed by an assessment of the patient's range of motion (ROM). The knee exam continues with tests for ligament or meniscus injury and special testing for patellofemoral dysfunction and dislocation of the patella. The opposite knee should be used as the standard to evaluate the injured knee, provided it has not been previously injured.

  • Physical Examinations III

    08:32
    Ankle Exam

    Source: Robert E. Sallis, MD. Kaiser Permanente, Fontana, California, USA

    The ankle and foot provide the foundation for the body and the stability needed for upright posture and ambulation. Because of its weight-bearing function, the ankle joint is a common site of injury among athletes and in the general population. Ankle injuries occur as a result of both acute trauma and repetitive overuse (such as running). The ankle is a fairly simple joint, consisting of the articulation between the distal tibia and talus of the foot, along with the fibula on the lateral side. The ankle is supported by numerous ligaments, most notably the deltoid ligament on the medial side, and laterally by three lateral ligaments: the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL), the calcaneofibular ligament (CFL), and the posterior talofibular ligament (PTFL). Physical examination of the ankle and the patient history (including the mechanism of the injury and the location of pain) provide diagnostic information that helps the physician to pinpoint specific structures involved in an injury, and are essential for determining the severity of the injury and the subsequent diagnostic steps. When examining the ankle, it is important to closely compare the injured ankle to the uninvolved side. Essential components of the ankle exam include inspection, palpation, range of motion (ROM), and strength. In addition, special tests can assess the inte

  • Physical Examinations III

    07:39
    Foot Exam

    Source: Robert E. Sallis, MD. Kaiser Permanente, Fontana, California, USA

    The foot is a complex structure composed of numerous bones and articulations. It provides flexibility, is the essential contact point needed for ambulation, and is uniquely suited to absorb shock. Because the foot must support the weight of the entire body, it is prone to injury and pain. When examining the foot, it is important to remove shoes and socks on both sides, so that the entire foot can be inspected and compared. It is important to closely compare the injured or painful foot to the uninvolved side. The essential parts of the evaluation of the foot include inspection, palpation (which should include vascular assessment), testing of the range of motion (ROM) and strength, and the neurological evaluation.

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