Palpation: Definition & Types

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  • 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
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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.

Light and Deep Ballottement

Light ballottement is used to detect fluid in a body part. You use the front of your fingers to apply light, rapid pressure at the location. Keep your fingers on the skin surface when moving from one area to another. If there is abnormal fluid present, you will feel movement in the tissues.

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