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Neurological Diseases Can be Found With a Simple Five Second Test

Demonstration of the Testing Procedure

Amazingly Simple Tool

The Babinski Reflex is a quick neurological test that anyone can do anywhere and anytime. Sometimes called the plantar response or big toe sign or phenomenon, it takes just seconds to perform. It's disarmingly simple and yet it can be quite accurate in detecting possible Central Nervous System trouble.

One constant in dealing with neurological disorders or damage is that the sooner it is recognized and treated, the better the chances are for a positive outcome. This test is one of the standard diagnostic tools used by doctors when diagnosing and treating neurology patients.

Start at the Heel

Start at the Heel

Normal Reflex

Normal Reflex

Babinski Reflex

Babinski Reflex

How It's Done

To perform the Babinski Reflex test, the subject removes his or her shoes and socks and lies on their back with the heels either supported on, or slightly hanging off of whatever is serving as a bed.

Using a pointed (not sharp) tool such as a letter opener or nail file, the tester runs the point up the midline of the sole of the foot, from the heel to the base of the toes. (A medium pressure is used). A normal reaction is for the toes to either remain still or else to curl downward.

The Babinski Reflex is present when the big toe points upward and the other toes fan out. Both feet are tested. Professionals sometimes test the outside edge of the foot and test across the upper sole also.

When the Reflex is Present

The most common cause for a positive result (Babinski Reflex being present) is either an error in performing the test or else in interpreting the results. (If the foot is pulled as the test is done then the toes may appear to fan). The best result is obtained on the first or second try; repeated tests will probably not yield accurate results. The test may be unreliable for children because their neurological development is in it’s early stages.

Some Possible Causes

What does the presence of the reflex mean? Unfortunately, it may indicate a serious neurological problem. Here is a list of some possibilities:

  • Addison's anemia
  • ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease)
  • Brain tumor (sometimes)
  • Familial periodic paralysis
  • Friedreich's ataxia
  • Grand mal seizure (sometimes a temporary Babinski's reflex is present after a seizure for a short while)
  • Head injury
  • Hepatoencephalopathy
  • Meningitis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Polio (not all forms)
  • Rabies
  • Spinal cord injury or tumor
  • Stroke
  • Syringomyelia
  • Tuberculosis (when it affects the spine)

Don't Worry Unless the Doctor Tells You To

Testing for the Babinski Reflex is a good idea if someone has had any type of physical trauma, especially to the head, and also if stroke is suspected. It can give emergency responders additional information but you should never dismiss any symptoms based on your own test results.

Realistically, the chances of you finding any of the above listed conditions by doing your own Babinski Reflex test are quite small. Knowing how to do the test is interesting information but it certainly doesn’t give the layperson  a reliable tool for diagnosing serious diseases. In the absence of any other symptoms, an apparent presence of the reflex can wait for your next trip to the physician to be checked out.

Babinski Reflex Article


Hugh Williamson (author) from Northeast USA on May 18, 2012:

Good info. Thanks.

Michele Travis from U.S.A. Ohio on May 18, 2012:

I wish doctors would consider people as to having neurological problems instead of just " mental problems" Like depression. Sometimes, no always, there is a problem in the brain.

Anyway, you are right about the test. I have had that test right after seizures. They are also supposed to be done after a person falls, has ANY type of back problem.

Hugh Williamson (author) from Northeast USA on May 18, 2012:

Thanks for reading and commenting Michele.

I am surprised that only neurologists seem to use this simple test regularly, at least in my experience. Many neuro patients that I've spoken with say that no one seems to consider neurological causes for their symptoms until all other possible causes are eliminated.

OK, I'll shut up now too.

Michele Travis from U.S.A. Ohio on May 16, 2012:

This is a very interesting hub. It started to bother me, until I read "Realistically, the chances of you finding any of the above listed conditions by doing your own Babinski Reflex test are quite small."

I have had epilepsy for 27 years now, and have had Grand Mal seizures. Went to the Cleveland Clinic to be tested for surgery. They took me off all of my medications. The seizures were so bad, I would stop breathing. The worst one, I stopped breathing for 2 minutes. Then they had to put a bag over my face to help me breath. They did that for another 2 minutes until I could breath on my own.

They gave me the surgery the next day. I was bald, but that is ok, because I have not had a seizure since September of 2010. I have hair now. Ok, I am going to shut up now. Thank you for this hub. It is very interesting. Voted it up!

Hugh Williamson (author) from Northeast USA on March 14, 2011:

toknowinfo -- Thanks for reading and commenting.

toknowinfo on March 13, 2011:

Very interesting. Thanks for enlightening me about this kind of test. Very good hub and very well explained. Rated up and useful.