Important Physical Exam Positions & Vocabulary

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  • 0:01 Names for Examination…
  • 0:26 Recumbent, Prone, Supine
  • 1:45 Sims', Knee-Chest, Lithotomy
  • 2:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Did you know that when the doctor asks you to lie down on a table in a certain way, there's actually a name for the position you are taking? This lesson covers the names of some of these basic positions.

Names for Examination Positions

Science has come up with some pretty confusing terms for even the most basic of things. I bet that when you are lying down in bed, you don't think about the fact that the position you are lying in has a technical name for it. Well, tonight when you go to bed, you'll be able to recite the different names of the positions you take as you toss and turn, after we review the names for basic physical examination positions.

Recumbent, Prone, Supine

I don't know about you, but when I go to bed, I lie down. Some people actually sit up straight and fall asleep that way, but not me.

Any position where the patient is lying down is known as a recumbent position. This means they can be lying on their back, or side, or their belly. Recumbent simply means lying down. Just an FYI, the act of lying down, or the position that's assumed when lying down, has another term known as decubitus.

If you sleep on your stomach you are in a prone position, a position where the person is lying on their belly, face down. So, if we want to examine a patient's buttocks or back, this would be a good position.

But if you sleep on your back, you are in the supine position, aka lying on one's back with the face up. The supine position is taken to be synonymous with the horizontal recumbent position, where the legs are extended. We can examine the anterior surface of the body using this position.

The supine position is slightly different from the dorsal recumbent position, where the knees are bent while the patient is lying on their back (dorsal) and face up. This position is used for rectal or vaginal examinations, among other things.

Sims', Knee-Chest, Lithotomy

Now if you are a person who sleeps lying down on the left side, with the left knee straight or slightly flexed and the right knee and thigh drawn up towards the chest, you are in the Sims' position. In this position, the left arm may be placed along the back. This position may be used for things like rectal or vaginal examinations.

Knee-Chest Position

Another position that can be used for rectal examinations, one I doubt you sleep in, is called the knee-chest position, a position where the patient is on their knees, with the buttocks elevated, and face down, with their chest and elbows resting on the table. This position, as you can tell by the image on your screen, looks uncomfortable and embarrassing and is thus not used very commonly.

And finally, a very famous position used for examinations and during childbirth, is known as the lithotomy position, a position where the patient is on their back with the hips and knees flexed and the legs separated and raised, often using straps or stirrups. I'm not sure anyone sleeps in that position, but who knows!

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