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.
Simel DL. Approach to the patient: history and physical examination. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 6.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.