Knee examination

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The knee examination, in medicine and physiotherapy, is performed as part of a physical examination, or when a patient presents with knee pain or a history that suggests a pathology of the knee joint.

The exam includes several parts:

  • position/lighting/draping
  • inspection
  • palpation
  • motion

The latter three steps are often remembered with the saying look, feel, move.


Position – for most of the exam the patient should be supine and the bed or examination table should be flat. The patient's hands should remain at his or her sides with the head resting on a pillow. The knees and hips should be in the anatomical position (knee extend, hip neither flexed or extend).

Lighting – adjusted so that it is ideal.

Draping – both of the patient's knees should be exposed so that the quadriceps muscles can be assessed.

Inspection done while the patient is standing[edit]

The knee should be examined for:

Inspection done while supine[edit]

The knee should be examined for:

  • Masses
  • Scars
  • Lesions
  • Signs of trauma/previous surgery
  • Swelling (edema - particular in the medial fossa (the depression medial to the patella)
  • erythema (redness)
  • Muscle bulk and symmetry (in particular atrophy of the medial aspect of the quadriceps muscle - vastus medialis)
  • Displacement of the patella (knee cap)


An inflamed knee exhibits tumor (swelling), rubor (redness), calor (heat), dolor (pain). Swelling and redness should be evident by inspection. Pain is gained by history and heat by palpation.

  • Temperature change - using the back of the hand one should feel the temperature of the knee below the patella, over the patella, and above the patella. Normally, the patella is cool relative to above and below the knee. A complete exam involves comparing the knees to one another.
  • joint line tenderness - this is done by flexing the knee and palpating the joint line with the thumb.
  • Knee effusions, test for
    • Patellar tap - useful for large effusions
    • Ballottement - defined as a palpatory technique for detecting or examining a floating object in the body
    • Bulge sign - useful for smaller effusions


The patient should be asked to move their knee. Fully range of motion is 0-135 degrees. If the patient has full range of motion and can move their knee on their own it is not necessary to move the knee passively.

  • examination of crepitus - clicking of the joint with motion

Ligament tests[edit]

Meniscus tests[edit]

  • McMurray test
    • medial meniscus is tested by internal rotation + lateral force
    • lateral meniscus is tested by external rotation + medial force
  • Apley grind test

Additional Tests[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jacobs, Brian (21 March 2011). "eMedicine - Knee Osteochondritis Dissecans : Article by Brian Jacobs". Mediscape. Retrieved 2 April 2011. 
  2. ^ Wittke R (November 2004). "Acute and chronic injuries to the knee in the doctor's office". MMW Fortschr Med (in German). 146 (45): 46–9. PMID 15581106.