Babinski’s Signe de l’Éventail : A turning point in the history of neurology

Cristina Brau, Ricardo Brau


Purpose: The Babinski sign is a finding known since the start of the teachings of physical diagnosis by almost all medical students. This reflex is an incredibly helpful phenomenon that enables physicians to distinguish between central and the peripheral nervous system diseases right at the bedside. Yet, most students as well as physicians remain oblivious to the remarkable history behind the Babinski sign and what it means to evolutional history of the modern neurological exam. We intend to study the birth of the “signe de l’éventail” (the fanning sign) and how it transformed medical diagnosis as we practice it today. Methods: An extensive search was conducted through the Internet to identify historical documents referring to Babinski and other physicians who also observed the phenomenon as early as the 17th and 18th century. We also conducted a search through medical journals that examined the Babinski sign and its history. Results: The Babinski reflex had been observed much earlier than 1896, when Babinski referred to his finding for the first time. The reflex had been reported in the literature as far back as 1784 and afterwards reobserved several times before Babinski. However, it was Babinski who first offered an interpretation of the reflex and suggested that it was related to an organic disruption in the central nervous system. By identifying the sign, Babinski separated himself from Charcot in the sense of creating a new tradition in neurology where the findings in a neurological exam were of far more importance than just a plain history as his mentor had relied upon. Conclusions: Babinski was not only responsible for suggesting the significance of such sign, but also transformed the role that physical diagnosis plays in modern medicine, where physical examination is key in revealing underlying pathology.


Babinski; Plantar reflex; Babinski sign; Signe de l’éventail; Modern neurological exam

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