Stated as simply as possible, the reason doctors examine patients is to find out what is wrong and how best to treat the problem. Of all the possible examinations available, examination by touch is one of the most time-honored, respected examination methods doctors use.


Many high-tech exams such as CAT scan and EEG often fill a definite need, but most doctors rely extensively on their sense of touch in the physical examination of a patient. Such examination by carefully feeling with the hands and fingertips is called palpation.


Palpation — A time-honored, respected examination.
Palpation is a fundamental examination skill which brings together a doctor’s experience, sense of touch, and knowledge of anatomy and physiology to help detect structural and functional problems, some of which may be undetectable in any other way. Indeed, in some areas, no high-tech exams exist that will match palpation. Palpation is non-invasive in nature and produces no side effects.
Doctors of all kinds utilize palpation, however chiropractic doctors are particularly skilled at it. Palpation makes up a fundamental part of a chiropractor’s training, a method which allows the chiropractor to “see” with the hands and fingers —to “see” the spine and its supporting structures. And it is also a means of examining other joint structures along with muscles, ligaments, tendons, trigger points, and so on.


In examining the spine, chiropractic doctors palpate up and down the spine to feel the positions of the vertebras in relation to each other. They look for vertebral misalignments (subluxations) which may be pinching spinal nerves, and they look for malformations as well as fixations of the spinal bones.


Stiffness in the spine or abnormal motion of the spinal joints can be caused by malposition of the bones, injury, swelling, muscle imbalance or spasm, muscle tears, ligament tears, and other causes. Many of these problems are easily detected by the experienced hands and fingers of a chiropractic doctor.


Though there are numerous variations on the palpation theme, most chiropractors use static and motion palpation. In motion palpation, a joint or whatever portion of the spine the doctor is examining is “put into motion” with one hand, while palpated with the other hand to determine the extent of any abnormal motion or fixation. For example, while examining the spine, the chiropractor may place one of his hands on top the patient’s head, then gently nod the head back and forth. The doctor’s other hand feels how each vertebra moves in relation to the others.


Chiropractors consider palpation so important that they utilize it with virtually every patient on every visit to determine the position of the vertebras, the amount of spinal fixation, the range of motion available, and whether the patient’s spinal condition has gained or lost since the last visit. Also, palpation helps the doctor know what other examinations to make, how much treatment is needed on that visit and what kind of treatment.


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