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David McQuillan (2008). Otago Polytechnic: Massage therapy course

What is palpation?

Palpation is the use of the sense of touch to physically examine the tissues of the body. For a palpatory assessment to be effective, the therapist must be able to feel the quality of the tissues and also be able to interpret what they are feeling. Palpation is a highly specialized skill, and may be considered to be one of the primary skills of a massage therapist.

Palpation may be performed before the massage begins or after it finishes, but is also integrated into the massage treatment as a form of on-going assessment.

Palpation is an act of feeling rather than thinking. John Upledger, the developer of Cranio-sacral therapy states (1987).

"Learning to trust your hands is not an easy task. You must learn to shut off your conscious, critical mind while you palpate for subtle changes in the body you are examining. You must (at first)…accept without question those perceptions which come into your brain from your hands….After you have developed your palpatory skill, you can criticize what you have felt with your hands. If you criticize before you learn to palpate, you will never learn to palpate, you will never learn to use your hands effectively as the highly sensitive diagnostic and therapeutic instruments which, in fact, they are."

Foundations of Palpation

Palpation findings and interpretation

Different palpatory techniques are better suited to palpation of different areas of the body. click on the links below to investigate which techniques may be appropriate for different body areas. Please note that some of the techniques described are fairly advanced, and you may not be required to make use of them in your current course of study. The intention is rather that over time you may refer to this material as you continue to develop your palpatory literacy.



Chaitow, L. (2000). Palpation Skills – Assessment and Diagnosis through touch. London: Harcourt Publishers Limited.

Fritz, S. (2004). Mosby’s Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage. (3rd ed.). St Louis, Missouri: Mosby.


Thibodeau, G., Patton, K. (2002). The human body in health and disease. (3rd ed.). St Louis, Missouri: Mosby.

Upledger, J. (1987). Craniosacral therapy. Seattle: Eastland Press.

Upledger, J., Vredevoogd, W. (1983). Craniosacral therapy. Seattle: Eastland Press.