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Evaluation of the Hand


Alexandra Villa-Forte

, MD, MPH, Cleveland Clinic

Reviewed/Revised Feb 2024
Topic Resources

Physical Examination of the Hand

How to Examine the Hand
  • Inspection

  • Palpation

  • Range of motion and strength testing

  • Tests for impingement

The overall appearance of the hand is assessed. The hand is observed first in the position of function, or rest position; normally, the fingers are flexed uniformly and are not parallel to each other. Instead, they converge and point to a single point on the wrist. The hand is next observed with the fingers straight and flexed 90° at the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joints; normally, the fingernails should all be parallel in the same plane when viewed end-on. (See also physical examination of hand disorders Physical examination Common hand disorders include a variety of deformities, ganglia, infections, Kienböck disease, nerve compression syndromes, noninfectious tenosynovitis, and osteoarthritis. (See also complex... read more Physical examination and Pain in Multiple Joints Pain in Multiple Joints Joints may simply be painful (arthralgia) or also inflamed (arthritis). Joint inflammation is usually accompanied by warmth, swelling (due to intra-articular fluid, or effusion), and uncommonly... read more .)

The hand is inspected for gross deformity, erythema, and swelling, particularly at the MCP and interphalangeal joints. Lesions of the skin and nails are noted, as is muscular atrophy on the dorsum of the hand between the metacarpals, and on the palm, particularly the thenar eminence and hypothenar eminence.

The hand is gently palpated for increased warmth, then is systematically palpated bimanually for tenderness over each of the bones and joints. Use of only one finger to palpate can help isolate a tender or slightly swollen area.

Overall range of motion and strength is tested by having the patient first make a tight fist around the examiner's 1st and 2nd fingers and then fully extending and spreading all the patient's fingers against squeezing resistance by the examiner's thumb and index finger.

Range of motion and strength of each digit is assessed, starting with the thumb individually and its ability to remain opposed to (pinched tightly against) each of the fingertips, as the examiner's index finger tries to pull through the pinch. Each of the fingers is assessed:

Impingement is assessed:

Digital nerve injury can be assessed by testing two-point discrimination at the fingertips. A calipers or a bent paper clip is used. The test is first demonstrated to the patient and then is done with the patient's eyes shut. A wide gap of the calipers that the patient can clearly distinguish is used first. Touching on the side of the fingertip, sometimes with one point only, and sometimes with two points simultaneously, the gap is gradually narrowed until the patient cannot discriminate one point from two. The shortest distance that the patient can discriminate is measured. The examination is repeated on the unaffected side. Discrimination ability normally should be within about 2 mm on each side.


  • 1. Kenney RJ, Hammert WC: Physical examination of the hand. J Hand Surg Am 39(11):2324-2334, 2014. doi:10.1016/j.jhsa.2014.04.026

NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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