Diseases & Conditions

Babinski Reflex


Overview & Description

A Babinski reflex is a body response that may be tested during a physical exam. This reflex, or involuntary type of response, is normal in small children, but not normal for those over 2 years old.

Who is a candidate for the test?

Testing for the Babinski reflex is usually done when th provider suspects head injury, brain disease, spinal cord injury, or spinal cord disease. The test may be performed as part of a routine physical exam.

How is the test performed?

The person is usually asked to lie on his or her back with legs resting flat on the bed or table. The test is performed on the sole, or bottom, of the foot. The examiner takes the foot or leg in his or her hand and the person is asked to relax. The bottom of the foot is stroked, usually with a special tool. The examiner observes the toes to see how they react to the foot stroking.


Preparation & Expectations

What is involved in preparation for the test?

No preparation is required for this test, other than the removal of shoes and socks.


Results and Values

What do the test results mean?

In a healthy person over the age of 2 years old, the toes curl downward when the bottom of the foot is stroked. This is considered a normal reflex. If the big toe curls upward, and the other toes curl upward and fan apart, this is considered an abnormal response. An abnormal Babinski reflex may indicate brain or spinal cord damage from many causes. For example, an abnormal reflex may result from:

  • a stroke
  • a brain tumor
  • a head, neck, or back injury affecting the brain or spinal cord
  • multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease affecting the nerve linings
  • In some cases, the test cannot give accurate or definite results. In these cases, other tests may be performed to check for brain or spinal cord damage.


    Attribution

    Author:Adam Brochert, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Planko, Christa, MA
    Edit Date:05/15/00
    Reviewer:Barbara Mallari, RN, BSN, PHN
    Date Reviewed:05/03/01

    Sources

    Cecil Textbook of Medicine, 1996, Bennett et al.