The neurological examination is performed by clinicians to assess some of the neural functions at that moment in time. The “neuro exam” may be organized in different ways, such as with the categories: mental status, cranial nerves, motor, somatosensation, reflexes, coordination, and gait.
The neurological mental status examination usually assesses arousal and certain cognitive functions. The psychiatric mental status examination usually assesses additional aspects of cognition, emotions, and consciousness. The rest of the neurological examination mainly assesses sensory and motor functions; only a few autonomic functions are commonly tested. The cranial nerve examination assesses functions performed by many of the nerves of the head and neck. The motor examination assesses aspects of the skeletal muscles of the limbs, and occasionally the torso. The somatosensory examination usually assesses touch, position, vibration, pain, and temperature sense of the limbs, and occasionally the torso. The reflex examination usually assesses the stretch reflex of certain muscle groups, usually just in the limbs, by tapping their tendon with a rubber hammer. The coordination examination assesses the smoothness and accuracy of certain limb movements. The gait examination assesses the many sensory and motor functions involved in stance and gait.
Parts of the neurological examination may be expanded, shortened, or skipped, depending on the situation. The examination may be performed and communicated in any order, but mental status should be first, because the quality and completeness of the examination depends on the extent to which the patient is alert, cooperative, and able to communicate with the examiner.