A physical exam checks your overall health. Your healthcare provider will evaluate the basic function of your organs, address any concerns, update your vaccinations and help you get healthy or maintain good health. Get a physical exam each year. It takes about 30 minutes to complete.
A physical exam is an evaluation of your overall health. A primary care provider performs a physical exam. This exam focuses on preventive care so you can get to good health or maintain it. If your provider suspects a health concern or you have a concern, they may refer you to see a specialist or offer tests to learn more about your symptoms. You don’t have to be ill to get a physical exam.
Other terms that refer to a physical exam include:
A healthcare provider will check your general health, which includes your:
For men or people assigned male at birth (AMAB), a healthcare provider may check your genitals and prostate. For women or people assigned female at birth (AFAB), your provider may perform a breast exam.
The purpose of a physical exam is to:
Most healthcare providers recommend you get a physical exam each year (annually).
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
A sports physical is a type of physical exam that focuses on your current health status and checks to see if you’re healthy enough to play a sport. A sports physical uses some of the same methods as an annual physical but mainly focuses on checking your:
Your provider may examine your flexibility and strength during a sports physical, which isn’t usually looked at during an annual physical exam.
You can prepare for your physical exam by making a list of the following and bringing it with you to the appointment:
If your physical exam is a sports physical or pre-employment exam, bring paperwork from your coach or employer for your healthcare provider to sign at the appointment.
During your physical exam, your healthcare provider will begin by asking you how you’re feeling and if you have any symptoms, questions or concerns about your health. If the reason for your exam is for a sport or if it’s a pre-employment physical, tell your provider at the start of your exam so they can fill out the required paperwork.
Before you meet with your primary care provider, a member of your care team will:
Your healthcare provider will ask questions to learn more about your symptoms or concerns, if you have any. For example, if you have pain or discomfort, your healthcare provider may ask:
When you meet with your doctor or healthcare provider, they’ll perform a physical exam that evaluates each organ system in your body. Techniques that your healthcare provider will use to complete this exam include:
During a physical exam, your provider will:
These examination methods can vary based on your age and the reason for your appointment. If you have specific concerns, a healthcare provider may look closely at the affected part of your body.
A physical exam takes about 30 minutes to complete.
After your physical exam, you can go about your day as usual. Your provider will give you the results of your exam and any signed paperwork for your employer or coach if you need it. They’ll also point out any areas of concern. They can give you a referral to see a specialist in certain cases. Your provider might recommend getting additional testing done to help them understand the cause of your symptoms if you have any. Testing could include but isn’t limited to the following:
If there are concerns after your physical exam, your provider may request an appointment after testing to monitor the results and make sure you’re in good health.
A physical exam is a snapshot of your overall health. When the exam is complete, your healthcare provider will let you know if:
If your provider notices anything that affects your general health, they may ask to see you sooner than one year to monitor anything that’s concerning. Testing may require an additional appointment, if necessary, and a follow-up appointment to go over your results.
Contact your healthcare provider if you:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A physical exam is an important part of helping you be as healthy as possible. Depending on your health, your provider may order additional tests or ask for a follow-up appointment. A physical exam is a good way for you to keep a relationship with a provider in the event of an illness or injury. Remember that an annual wellness check is all about you — so it’ll be tailored to you and your specific health needs.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/14/2023.
Learn more about our editorial process.