Editorials

The Babinski sign: 100 years on

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.313.7064.1029 (Published 26 October 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:1029
  1. John F Ditunno, Professor of rehabilitation medicine,
  2. Rodney Bell, Professor of neurology
  1. Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, 111 South 11th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107–5098, USA

    Still rivals current technology in its precision, reliability, convenience, and cost

    In this age of information explosion and high technology, the neurological examination is still the gold standard for defining clinically relevant neurological disease. This is the centenary of the Babinski sign, known to every medical student and almost synonymous with the neurological examination.

    Before Joseph Babinski's discovery in 1896, knowledge about reflexes was limited. Although reflex activity was recognised as an involuntary response of the nervous system by Descartes as early as 1662, it was not until the 19th century that clinicians began to understand the underlying mechanisms. Motor and sensory roots were described in 1811, followed by the neurone theory in the latter half of the century. Cutaneous and tendon reflexes were defined in rapid succession from 1875. Flexion reflex withdrawal of the lower …

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