Article Text


The Babinski reflex.
  1. J. van Gijn
  1. University Department of Neurology, Academisch Ziekenhuis, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


    The plantar response is a reflex that involves not only the toes, but all muscles that shorten the leg. In the newborn the synergy is brisk, involving all flexor muscles of the leg; these include the toe 'extensors', which also shorten the leg on contraction and therefore are flexors in a physiological sense. As the nervous system matures and the pyramidal tract gains more control over spinal motoneurones the flexion synergy becomes less brisk, and the toe 'extensors' are no longer part of it. The toes then often go down instead of up, as a result of a segmental reflex involving the small foot muscles and the overlying skin, comparable to the abdominal reflexes. With lesions of the pyramidal system, structural or functional, this segmental, downward response of the toes disappears, the flexion synergy may become disinhibited and the extensor hallucis longus muscle is again recruited into the flexion reflex of the leg: the sign of Babinski. A true Babinski sign denotes dysfunction of the pyramidal tract, and should be clearly distinguished from upgoing toes that do not belong to the flexion synergy of the leg. Correct interpretation of the plantar response depends only to a minor degree on the method or site of stimulation of the foot. It is therefore most important to assess the response in the entire leg.

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