The history of examination of reflexes

J Neurol. 2014 Dec;261(12):2264-74. doi: 10.1007/s00415-014-7326-7. Epub 2014 Apr 3.


In the late 1800s, Wilhelm Erb, Joseph Babinski, William Gowers, and others helped develop the neurologic examination as we know it today. Erb was one of the first to emphasize a detailed and systematic neurologic exam and was co-discoverer of the muscle stretch reflex, Gowers began studying the knee jerk shortly after it was described, and Babinski focused on finding reliable signs that could differentiate organic from hysterical paralysis. These physicians and others emphasized the bedside examination of reflexes, which have been an important part of the neurologic examination ever since. This review will focus on the history of the examination of the following muscle stretch and superficial/cutaneous reflexes: knee jerk, jaw jerk, deep abdominal reflexes, superficial abdominal reflexes, plantar reflex/Babinski sign, and palmomental reflex. The history of reflex grading will also be discussed.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Neurologic Examination / history*
  • Reflex / physiology
  • Reflex, Abdominal / physiology
  • Reflex, Abnormal / physiology
  • Reflex, Babinski / physiology
  • Reflex, Stretch / physiology