Reflexes Explained

Each individual reflex explained

Retained reflexes may lead to any of the symptoms listed below, however this information is merely a guide for educational purposes only. It should not be used for diagnosis. Please consult a primary healthcare professional for full evaluation of your history, signs and symptoms.


Fear Paralysis Reflex

If this reflex is retained it can be characterised by withdrawal, reticence at being involved in anything new, and fear of different circumstances. The withdrawal is not always quiet -it may be a screaming fear.

Retained Fear Paralysis Reflex may lead to any of the symptoms listed below:

  • Low tolerance to stress
  • Anxiety seemingly unrelated to reality
  • Hypersensitivity to touch, sound, changes in visual field
  • Dislike of change or surprise.
  • Poor adaptability
  • Fatigue
  • Breath holding
  • Fear of social embarrassment
  • Insecure / Lack of trust in oneself
  • Overly clingy or may be unable to accept or demonstrate affection easily
  • Compulsive traits / Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Negativism, defeatist attitude
  • Won’t try new activities, especially where comparison or excellence is expected
  • Temper tantrums
  • Immediate motor paralysis under stress – can’t think and move at the same time



Moro Reflex

The newborn’s higher centres have not yet developed enough to make a rational decision about whether a circumstance is threatening or not. It is protected by an involuntary “one reflex for all occasions”, one set of physical and hormonal events which cover for most eventualities.

The reflex is set off by excessive information in any of the baby’s senses. For example, a loud noise, bright light, sudden rough touch, sudden stimulation of the balance mechanism such as dropping or tilting.

It is the earliest form of adrenal “fight or flight response”. This response prepares for fighting or running and if not integrated leads to hyperactivity.

As the adrenal glands are a large part of our immune system; constantly being turned on can lead to adrenal fatigue and therefore asthma, allergies, and chronic illness.

Retained Moro Reflex may lead to:

  • Hypersensitivity to sudden noise, light or movement
  • Difficulty with new or stimulating experiences
  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Distractibility– has to pay attention to everything
  • Anxiety, particularly anticipation anxiety
  • Emotional and social immaturity
  • Sensitivity to foods or food additives
  • Inappropriate behaviour
  • Hyperactivity
  • Adrenal fatigue, leading to allergy, asthma or chronic illness



Juvenile Suck Reflex

Retained Juvenile Suck Reflex may lead to:

  • Speech and articulation problems
  • Difficulty swallowing and chewing
  • Difficulty speaking and doing manual tasks at the same time
  • Involuntary tongue or mouth movements when writing or drawing
  • Poor manual dexterity, especially when chewing or speaking
  • Class II dental occlusion requiring dental intervention



Rooting Reflex

Light touch on the cheek, or stimulation of the edge of the mouth will cause a baby to turn its head toward the side of stimulation and open its mouth with an extended tongue in preparation for suckling. It helps the baby put the nipple in its mouth.

Retained Rooting Reflex may lead to:

  • Hypersensitivity around lips and mouth
  • Tongue sits too forward in the mouth
  • Dribbling
  • Speech problems
  • Poor manual dexterity when speaking
  • Hormonal imbalances



Palmomental and Plantomental Reflexes

This reflex is very similar to the Babkin response and some sources claim the Palmomental reflex is synonymous with the Babkin response. This reflex is where the hands move while the baby is suckling. This relationship also creates contraction of muscles at the mouth when a portion of the hand is stimulated. This reflex should integrate by the third month of life.

Retained Palmomental and Plantomental Reflex may lead to:

  • A child’s jaw opening and closing when using scissors
  • Children biting others
  • Difficulty learning to use cutlery
  • Tight pencil grip
  • Tension in facial muscles affecting facial expressions, which can influence stuttering
  • Clenching the jaw whilst clenching the steering wheel



Palmar Reflex

Normal neonates have an active Palmar, or Grasp, reflex. When the palm of the hand is touched, the three small fingers flex toward the palm to grasp. This reflex must integrate for normal prehension (holding between the thumb and fingers).

If retained, these children often have poor handwriting, but more importantly, a poor ability to process their ideas and then write them down. That is, copying words is easy but the task of spelling words is more difficult and messy.

Independent movement of the fingers will tend to weaken other muscles. Thus the child may slump during tasks like playing piano or making models.

In the adult, the most commonly heard complaint is “my back hurts when I sit in front of my computer” (typing requires independent finger movement).

Palmar reflex retention may lead to:

  • Poor fine motor skills and manual dexterity
  • Inappropriate pencil grip and poor handwriting
  • Poor posture when playing piano or working with the hands
  • Difficulty processing ideas on to paper
  • Poor posture and/or back pain when working at a desk or computer



Plantar Reflex

The Plantar reflex is similar to the Palmar reflex in that stroking or pressing on the underside of the foot causes the foot to flex and the toes to curl, as if to grasp what touched the foot.

Plantar reflex retention may lead to:

  • Difficulty learning to walk
  • Running awkwardly
  • Poor balance
  • In children the toes may curl under when putting on shoes, leading to difficulty getting the foot into the shoe
  • Problems with sports requiring balance and coordination while running
  • Low back pain while walking and/or standing
  • Shin soreness
  • Recurrent ankle twisting
  • Difficulty walking in the dark (vision is not able to assist balance).



Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex

If a newborn’s head is turned to one side, the arm and leg on the side to which the head is turned straighten while the opposite arm and leg pull in. It should be fully present at birth and appears to assist the baby’s active participation in the birthing process.

In the neonatal display of the ATNR, the hand moves in conjunction with the head. This connection between touch and vision helps to establish distance perception and hand eye co-ordination. If retained, the hand and eye want to move together, making it difficult to look up at a blackboard and write. When walking, turning the head results in the straightening of the arm and leg on the same side, upsetting balance and normal walking pattern.

Looking at the hand tends to weaken other muscles. This affects ability to catch a ball and other sporting activities.

In early months, ATNR locks vision on to anything which catches the attention. If inappropriately retained, the child (or adult) is easily distracted by anything that attracts the attention.

ATNR retention may lead to:

  • Hand-eye co-ordination difficulty
  • Poor handwriting
  • Awkward pencil grip
  • Difficulty copying from a blackboard
  • Missing parts of a line when reading
  • Difficulty catching a ball
  • Unable to cross the vertical midline (for example, a right-handed child may find it difficult to write on the left side of the page)
  • Discrepancy between oral and written performance
  • Disturb the development of visual tracking (necessary for reading and writing)
  • Balance may be disturbed
  • Bilateral integration (integrated use of the two sides of the body) may be poor.
  • Establishment of a dominant hand, eye or ear may be difficult
  • Judgment of distance may be affected
  • Poor at sports
  • In adults there can be chronic shoulder and/or neck problems



Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex

TLR involves the vestibular system (sense of balance and position in space) and how it interacts with other senses and therefore also balance.

The child who still has a retained TLR when starting to walk cannot acquire true standing and walking security and may experience difficulty in judging space, distance, depth and speed.

There are three separate corrections related to TLR. One helps concentration when working over a desk and helps to stop slumping over the desk. Another helps the body to coordinate movement, allowing it to move more efficiently. It is rare to see a patient fail to beat their personal best after this correction has been performed.

Retained Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex can be associated with:

  • A “floppy” child
  • Poor balance
  • Motion sickness
  • Orientation and spatial difficulties
  • Visual problems
  • Difficulty judging space, distance, depth and speed
  • Poor concentration
  • Fatigue while reading or when working or studying at a desk
  • Bad posture when working over a desk
  • Difficulty coordinating movement
  • Sports performance below capability



Stepping Reflex & Heel Reflex

Our bodies alter our postural muscles depending if we are standing with our weight over our toes or our heels. These two reflexes help to remove tension from the muscles of the lower leg to allow for increased ankle movement, and establish ideal posture integrated with our vision.

A reasonable amount of the information we take in from our environment is through vision, so where we hold our head (tipping too far forward or back) has a tremendous influence on our posture. These two reflexes are aimed at balancing the connection between the input from our eyes and the feedback from our feet. Symptoms of retention are listed below. However, interestingly, many people retain both.

Stepping Reflex retention may lead to:

  • Toe walking – ‘running like an ostrich’
  • Tight calf muscles
  • Poor balance and muscle control
  • Feet and ankle problems with pain and dysfunction
  • Recurring hamstring injuries and mid-low back strains
  • Visual problems due to an altered perception of the horizon – head tilts forward and eyes look upward


Heel Reflex retention may lead to:

  • Heavy heel walking – ‘walking like a baby elephant’
  • Heel pain
  • Achilles Tendonitis
  • Shin Splints
  • Poor core stability
  • Balance problems
  • Visual problems due to an altered perception of the horizon – head tilts back and eyes look down



Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex – STNR

The STNR begins to display its pattern in normal development from 8 to 11 months of age and is a stepping-stone to crawling on the hands and knees.Malfunctioning STNR symptoms may include:

  • A child crawling later than normal
  • Poor hand-eye co-ordination
  • An ape-like walking pattern
  • Tendency to slump at a desk and/or poor posture due to a decrease in muscle tone, especially of the spinal muscles
  • The eyes fatigue sooner than normal when focusing on near then far objects (copying from the blackboard may be slow and tedious, thus missing a lot of information gathered in class)
  • Tendency to be long sighted
  • Poor organisation and planning skills



Suprapubic Reflex

The Suprapubic Reflex is present at birth. The reflex is elicited when pressure is detected at the pubic bones and the body responds by tipping the pelvis forward, straightening both legs. If the skin over one pubis is firmly touched, one hip moves backward and the other moves forward. The opposite pattern is seen in the upper body, enabling the baby to initiate commando crawling before the STNR activates to allow them to straighten their arms and legs to crawl on all fours.

Suprapubic Reflex retention may lead to:

  • Bladder problems
  • Pelvic floor problems
  • Sugar handling imbalances
  • Imbalances in the hormonal systems
  • May affect walking pattern and posture
  • Difficult or recurring ankle, hip or shoulder problems



Spinal Galant Reflex

In the newborn, stroking the low back on one side of the spine will result in side flexion of the lumbar (low back) spine away from that side, with raising of the hip on the same side. It appears to take an active role in the birth process, with movements of the hip helping the baby to work its way down the birth canal.

Stimulation down both sides of the spine simultaneously will activate a related reflex, which causes urination.

If the Spinal Galant reflex is retained it may be elicited at any time by light pressure on the low back region causing uncontrollable spinal movement.

The stimulation of bedsheets may activate the related urination reflex, causing bedwetting long after toilet training.

Spinal Galant Reflex retention may lead to:

  • Ability to sit still (the “ants in the pants” child who wriggles, squirms and constantly changes body position)
  • Attention and concentration problems
  • Difficulty co-ordinating normal walking gait
  • Bladder control (bedwetting is common)
  • Can contribute to the development of scoliosis (curvature) of the spine
  • Clumsiness while trying to manipulate objects
  • May affect fluency and mobility in physical activities or sports