Interactive Guide to Physical Examination

Examination of the Musculoskeletal System


After completing this module, the student should be able to:

  • Recognize and describe the anatomy of the major musculoskeletal groups in the body.
  • Describe the examination techniques used to examine the musculoskeletal system.
  • Describe special techniques used to examine selected joints.
  • Describe normal physical findings in each musculoskeletal area.

Module navigation:

Ideally, the student should progress through the module by using the menu of options on the left side. Cues to access the glossary, video clips, or interactive portions of the module can be found within the text.

General approach to the musculoskeletal examination:

The musculoskeletal examination includes evaluation of the bony, muscular, ligamentous, tendinous, and neurologic structures of the body. A thorough understanding of musculoskeletal anatomy is essential to perform this portion of the physical examination. Oftentimes, when a patient has musculoskeletal complaints, the physician must determine if the problem is primarily orthopedic, neurologic or rheumatologic. Clues to making this distinction lie in taking a thorough history and performing an appropriately detailed examination. This module presents a basic screening musculoskeletal examination, but further examination and testing may be necessary if history or screening examination dictates. Specialized examinations for each musculoskeletal area are beyond the scope of this module.