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Percussion

Definition

Percussion is a method of tapping body parts with fingers, hands, or small instruments as part of a physical examination. It is done to determine:

  • The size, consistency, and borders of body organs
  • The presence or absence of fluid in body areas

Percussion of a body part produces a sound, like playing a drum. The sound is a sign of the type of tissue within the body part or organ.

  • Lungs sound hollow on percussion because they are filled with air.
  • Bones, joints, and solid organs such as the liver sound solid.
  • The abdomen sounds like a hollow organ filled with air, fluid, or solids.

References

Swartz MH. The physical examination. In: Swartz MH, ed. Textbook of Physical Diagnosis. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 4.


Review Date: 1/26/2017
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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