A physical examination, medical examination, or clinical examination (more popularly known as a check-up or medical) is the process by which a medical professional investigates the body of a patient for signs of disease. It generally follows the taking of the medical history — an account of the symptoms as experienced by the patient. Together with the medical history, the physical examination aids in determining the correct diagnosis and devising the treatment plan. This data then becomes part of the medical record.
A Cochrane Collaboration meta-study found that routine annual physicals did not measurably reduce the risk of illness or death, and conversely, could lead to over-diagnosis and over-treatment. The authors concluded that routine physicals were unlikely to do more good than harm.
Imaging is important in the evaluation of patients with degenerative disease and infectious processes. There are numerous conditions that can manifest as low back pain (LBP) or neck pain in a patient, and in many cases, the cause may be multifactorial. Clinical history and physical examination are key components in the evaluation of such patients; however, physical examination has variable sensitivity and specificity. Although studies have demonstrated that uncomplicated acute LBP and/or radiculopathy are self-limited conditions that do not warrant any imaging, neuroimaging can provide clear anatomic delineation of potential causes of the patient's clinical presentation. Various professional organizations have recommendations for imaging of LBP, which generally agree that an imaging study is not indicated for patients with uncomplicated LBP or radiculopathy without a red flag (eg, neurological deficit such as major weakness or numbness in lower extremities, bowel or bladder dysfunction, saddle anesthesia, fever, history of cancer, intravenous drug use, immunosuppression, trauma, or worsening symptoms). Different imaging modalities have a complementary role in the diagnosis of pathologies affecting the spine.