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Rebound tenderness is said to be present when the abdominal wall, having been compressed slowly, is released rapidly resulting in a sudden stab of pain.
This may make the patient wince or moan. The face should be watched while this manoeuvre is performed.
It strongly suggests the presence of peritonitis. Where there is indisputable peritonitis, e.g. overt guarding, eliciting rebound tenderness gleans no further information.
Recent evidence suggests that this is a very non-specific sign and that a better index of peritonitis is pain on coughing.