Clarity Blog

October 17, 2023

Primitive Reflexes: Is Anyone Checking These?

Primitive reflexes are reflexes we are all born with. They help us to move through the birth canal as we enter the world and keep us safe in that world during the first year of life, including aiding with feeding. These reflexes include: snouting, rooting, palmar grasp, Babinski, Moro, tonic labyrinthine, asymmetrical tonic neck (checked kneeling and standing), symmetric tonic neck, spinal galant and Perez.

Primitive reflexes should all be remediated by the age of 1 with various reflexes going away at different times during development. But sometimes these reflexes are retained; meaning they have never properly gone away and this needs to be addressed for proper development neurologically. Another thing that can happen is the reflexes are remediated, but then an assault happens to the central nervous system that causes these primitive reflexes to once again return. In this case, we call the reflexes frontal release signs and these can be found in all ages including teens, adults and the elderly.

The majority of my practice over the years has been seeing patients of all ages who have sustained a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) which is also known as a concussion. Many patients come to see me after not improving over months or even years. I am often amazed at how many of these patients have positive primitive reflex findings. It also amazes me how many practitioners are not checking for these reflexes since it is something we all learn in our education! Primitive reflexes are also seen with developmental conditions such as autism, ADHD, OCD and dyslexia.

So why does this matter? All of the primitive reflexes correlate to different areas of the brainstem which is a vital part of our central nervous system. Finding intact primitive reflexes (which sounds like a good thing, but in fact is not) can be a window into how the brainstem is functioning. It also is a clue to how the frontal lobe is firing down to inhibit (or in this case NOT inhibit) those reflexes. The prefrontal cortex is one of the most disrupted areas of the brain during a concussive event and delays in development can cause various signs and symptoms in children and teens.

If you’d like to have you or your child/teen checked for these primitive reflexes as part of a full neurological examination, please reach out to schedule an initial visit.

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