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Babinski reflex

Alternative Names 
Babinski sign, extensor plantar reflex, toe sign

A Babinski reflex is a body response that may be tested during a physical examination. 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 the doctor suspects head injury, brain disease, spinal cord injury, or spinal cord disease. The test may be performed as part of a routine physical examination.

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.

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

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 tumour
  • 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.

Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne

Last Updated: 26/10/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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