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Respiratory Exam

Chest Expansion

July 1st, 2020


Assessing for chest expansion (symmetric or asymmetric) provides clues regarding the presence of chest wall pathology, lung volume loss or obstruction.
  • How to Assess

  • While the patient is in maximal expiration, place your palms over the patient's posterolateral ribs with your thumbs touching in the midline. Ask the patient to take a deep breath in and measure the distance that the thumbs move apart.
Measure both anteriorly and posteriorly, comparing measurements.
  • Causes of Decreased Chest Expansion

  • Bilateral

  • Airway obstruction - asthma, COPD
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Musculoskeletal - arthritides, rib fracture
  • Unilateral

  • Pneumothorax
  • Atelectasis
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