How to perform head-to-toe examination during first aid

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A complete head-to-toe examination of an injured individual during emergency scenarios will allow the rescuer to assess other possible injuries that are not immediately apparent. You have to perform this examination only after life-threatening injuries have been given appropriate first aid care and treatment.


You should start with the head of the individual first during a head-to-toe examination. Check and feel the head and face and take note of any bruising, abrasions, depressions on the skull, fluids in the ears or nose as well as damage to the eyes. Any abnormalities must be noted.

Neck, torso and pelvis

Check and feel the neck if there are areas of bruising, tenderness or deformity. You should also inspect and palpate the collarbone, shoulders, abdomen and the chest. Take note for any bruising, tenderness and asymmetries. Using your hand, slide carefully beneath the injured individual and feel along the back and spine for any pain, tenderness, bleeding and irregularities.

Press on both of the protruding bones in the pelvis and check if the individual complains of pain or if there are apparent deformities.

Arms, legs and feet

Check and palpate along the arms and legs of the individual for any deformity or bruising. You have to check the pulse in both wrists and on top of each foot and check if the pulse is the same on each.

You should also scratch both hands and feet of the individual and ask if he/she can feel any sensation. Additionally, ask the individual to move his/her arms, legs, fingers and toes. This will help check if the individual has still full range of motion.

Always remember that any deviation from normal should be taken into consideration so that appropriate measures can be provided right away.

Head-to-toe examination
Check and feel the head and face and take note of any bruising, abrasions, depressions on the skull, fluids in the ears or nose as well as damage to the eyes.

Important considerations to bear in mind during a head-to-toe examination

You have to make sure that you can clearly assess the skin when checking the individual, especially on the limbs and torso. You have to ask the individual if you can check under his/her clothes and make sure another person is also present while conducting the assessment. In case the examination is performed in a public place, try to guard the individual from prying eyes when examining the body parts underneath his/her clothing.

Just be careful not to shove the individual while performing the examination and avoid moving any of the limbs or joints that are resistant. Always remember that any movement might cause further injury.

It is important to note that an injured individual might be distracted by one injury and unaware that there is another life-threatening injury. You have to be careful in completing a thorough head-to-toe examination and always make sure that you are not distracted by the individual’s concerns.

If the individual has specific medical conditions, it is important to call for emergency assistance right away so that advanced treatment options can be provided as soon as possible.

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