A Guide To Physical Exams For Men

By Delialah Falcon. Medically reviewed by Tom Iarocci, MD. May 7th 2016

Naturally, most men will schedule a trip to the doctor when they are feeling ill and in need of medication or medical care.

But unfortunately, men are not so inclined to schedule a routine physical examination or well-care visit otherwise. Physical exams are important because certain medical conditions have such a gradual onset that it is possible for symptoms to be overlooked. In addition, some major health issues display no symptoms at all, and can go undetected for months or years.

Importance Of Physical Exams For Men

A physical exam is your doctor’s way of checking your body for any signs of disease that you may not even be aware of. Many men first learn that they have a condition that requires the use of medication, such as hypertension, only after receiving a physical exam. By scheduling routine physical examinations, many health concerns can be addressed before a health crisis situation arises. Heart health is also linked to brain health and sexual health, so for men who want to keep as fit as possible well into their golden years, a regular trip to the doctor is key.

What to Expect From an Annual Physical Exam

When you arrive at your physician’s office, you will be briefly checked by the nurse before seeing your doctor. The nurse will check your vital signs and record them for the doctor to look over. Your blood pressure, weight and body temperature will be checked and recorded by your nurse, as well. You will typically be asked to give a urine sample, and blood may be drawn for laboratory tests.

Once in with the doctor, your health history will be discussed and the doctor will go over any concerns he may have based on your recorded information. You will be given a chance to express your health concerns or voice any health issues you may have been experiencing.

Your doctor will typically ask you about:

  • Past medical history
  • Injuries
  • Prior surgeries
  • Family medical history
  • Food and medication allergies
  • General behavior and lifestyle questions
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Smoking
  • Diet
  • Exercise habits
  • Sexual health 

The doctor will be making his own mental notes about your health while he is speaking with you. By observing the appearance of your skin, memory, gait, balance and your ability to give correct responses without delay, your doctor can be alerted to signs of potential health problems.

  • During the exam, the doctor will listen to your heart with a stethoscope to check for any possible signs of heart disease. You will be asked to breathe in slowly and deeply as your lungs are listened to.
  • You ears, nose, sinuses, throat and tonsils will all be examined.
  • The doctor will also check the appearance of your teeth and gums.
  • Your eyes will be checked for clarity.
  • The doctor will feel your neck to check the lymph nodes, thyroid gland and the carotid arteries for signs of potential problems.
  • You will be asked to lie down so your abdomen can be checked. The doctor will use a stethoscope to listen for healthy bowel sounds.
  • Tapping on the abdomen gives clues to liver size and the presence of abdominal fluid. Your abdomen will be palpated as signs of tenderness are looked for.
  • The doctor will test your reflexes by tapping an area in your knee with a special hammer. A bad reflex may prompt the doctor to investigate your health further.
  • The testicles will be examined and checked for lumps and tenderness. You will be checked for signs of hernia by coughing while the doctor feels for signs of weakness in the abdominal wall.
  • Your penis will be examined for warts, ulcers or other infections.
  • The doctor will check the size of your prostate by inserting a finger into the rectum.
  • Finally, the doctor will examine your neurological system and test your muscle strength. You will be asked to stand while your balance and reflexes are observed and tested.

Laboratory Tests

Generally, as part of a routine physical exam, your doctor will order some laboratory tests to check for several common medical conditions. More tests may be done based on the findings of the tests, your medical exam or items in your medical history. 

Screening and diagnostic laboratory tests can include:

  • CBC (complete blood count)
  • Chemistry panel
  • Lipid panel (Cholesterol)
  • Urinalysis
  • Chest X-ray

Preparing For Your Visit

Your doctor will be asking you many questions that relate to your health and general lifestyle, so it would be wise to think about this and prepare for any questions in advance. Have a thorough understanding of your family’s medical history. Cancers, heart disease, diabetes and stroke are all factors that your doctor should know about.

Bring along a list of all of the medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, that you are currently taking. Also bring any alternative medicines and herbal remedies or vitamins. You should also list all concerns or problems you would like to address.

If you are experiencing a particular symptom, try to pay close attention to the details surrounding it. Make note of how often you experience the symptoms, what worsens or relieves them, whether or not certain foods aggravate the symptoms, etc. These are all helpful details that may make it easier your doctor to properly diagnosis any underlying conditions that you may have.

How Often Should Physical Exams Be Scheduled?

A routine physical exam is best done yearly as a form of preventive care. Routine exams performed once per year can alert your doctor to changes in your body that may point to areas of concern. Prescription medications and early treatment can possibly help avert a health crisis.

Good medical care is essential at every age. However, at different ages, different medical concerns can become more prominent. The age at which a man should have a particular screening test or evaluation can depend a lot on his family history, lifestyle, and other considerations, but here is a rough guide:

  • Starting at age 20, men should begin having annual testicular and hernia exams.
  • At age 35, your doctor may begin paying closer attention to your thyroid.
  • If not before, at age 40, your doctor will likely begin running annual cholesterol level lab tests.
  • When you reach age 50, you should be getting your first colonoscopy, to be routinely checked every 10 years. You will also begin having annual blood test screening for prostate cancer.

Recommendations for ages for first screenings tend to evolve over the years and may be highly individual, so if there is any concern, ask your doctor and make sure you give your health care provider a complete picture of your medical and family history.


Physical examinations can last 1 to 2 hours from check-in to completion. When scheduling your physical, keep in mind that because of the length of time that will need to be clocked out, there will not be as much availability as if you were scheduling a sick visit. For this reason, it is important to be prepared to schedule your exam up to a month in advance, as many physicians’ offices will not be able to get you in for a routine physical exam on short notice.

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