Palpation: Definition & Types

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Sinus Infection (Sinusitis): Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 Definition of Palpation
  • 0:27 Types of Palpation
  • 1:22 Light Palpation
  • 1:46 Deep Palpation
  • 2:22 Light and Deep Ballottement
  • 2:58 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lynee Carter
What can you tell about an object you touch with your hands? Is it hot or cold? Is it smooth or rough? Does it have any lumps or bumps? Health providers use palpation to determine various bodily characteristics of patients. Find out more about the different types of palpation used.

Definition of Palpation

Palpation is one of the assessment techniques health providers use during a physical exam to detect certain characteristics of the body. It's the technique of using the sense of touch to assess parts of the body. By using different parts of their hands, different characteristics about the patient's body - such as swelling, size and movement - can be identified. The information collected can help determine the patient's health status.

Types of Palpation

The fingertips are used in fine tactile discriminations, such as skin texture, swelling and pulsations. You can collect information about whether a person's skin is smooth or rough, if there is fluid in the tissues, and characteristics of pulses.

The finger and thumb used in a grasping action can help determine the position, size and consistency of a body part. This is used to help thoroughly examine any masses a person may have in the body.

The back of the fingers and hands are used to check the body temperature. Since the skin is thinner at this location, it can easily determine whether a body part is cool, cold, warm or hot.

The side of your hands on the same side of your pinky finger is used to check for vibrations in the body. You can feel this when you place your hands on a person's chest while they are talking.

The front of the fingers are used for light palpation, deep palpation, light ballottement and deep ballottement. Let's look at these in more detail.

Light Palpation

Light palpation is used to feel abnormalities that are on the surface. You use the front of your fingers to gently press down into the area of the body about 1 to 2 centimeters. Then lift your fingers off the body and move to the next nearby area. This helps identify the texture, tenderness, temperature, moisture, elasticity, pulsations, and masses.

Deep Palpation

Deep palpation is used to feel internal organs and masses. You use the front of your fingers to firmly press down into the area of the body about 4 to 5 centimeters, then lift your fingers off the body and move to the next nearby area. This helps identify the size, shape, tenderness, symmetry and mobility. Deep palpation can be uncomfortable for the patient, especially when assessing the abdomen or painful areas. Another way to palpate is to put one hand on top of another when pressing down. This is called the bimanual technique, and it allows better control of the applied pressure.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account