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Primitive Reflexes and chiropractic for kids

Primitive reflexes are the reflexes we’re all born with, thought to help infants organise their initial motor behaviour. During the first 6-12 months of development, in the right environment, these reflexes integrate into adult postural responses (1). This integration is generally a good indicator that your baby is going through healthy development stages and reaching milestones.

However, sometimes primitive reflexes are retained instead of being integrated. As your baby grows up, retaining primitive reflexes can be a sign of development issues and may lead to problems with motor skills (1).

Keeping an eye on the integration of your baby’s primitive reflexes is important and something your chiropractor can help with.

What are the different primitive reflexes

Asymmetrical tonic neck reflex (ATNR) (2)

What is it? When your baby rotates their head, their arms also move. It’s thought that this allows the baby to see their hand, promoting hand-eye coordination.

Signs that it has been retained

  • Poor balance and coordination

  • Difficulty using both sides of body at once

  • Problems with actions like catching a ball

  • Issues with pencil grip and writing

Moro (3)

What is it? This is the first stage of the fight or flight response. When your baby is startled, or passed from one person to another, they will gasp and throw their limbs out.

Signs that it has been retained

  • Anxiety or emotional outbursts

  • Poor impulse control

  • Motion sickness

  • Poor coordination and balance

  • Hypersensitivity and hyper-reactivity

Spinal galant

What is it? When you run a finger down your baby’s spine, the baby will curve their back away from that side.

Signs that it has been retained

  • Trouble sitting still

  • Poor concentration

  • Tendency to be clumsy

  • Uncomfortable in tighter pants

  • Bed wetting past the expected age

Sucking and rooting

What is it? When a baby’s cheek is stroked, they will turn their head to that side and suck. This is designed to help them feed.

Signs that it has been retained

  • Trouble pronouncing words

  • Thumb sucking beyond the normal period

  • Messy eating

  • Uncomfortable with having their face touched

Tonic labyrinthine reflex (TLR)

What is it? This is a spatial reflex. When your baby’s neck is bent, it’s arms and legs will bend as well and when their neck is extended, arms and legs will be straight.

Signs that it has been retained

  • Low tone

  • Trouble with gross motor skills

  • Poor balance and coordination

  • Vision and hearing problems

  • Motion sickness

  • Toe-walking

Palmar grasp

What is it? When you put your finger on your baby’s palm, they will wrap their fingers around it. This is believed to be a comfort-based reflex (2)

Signs that it has been retained

  • Trouble with pencil grip and writing

  • Tendency to poke tongue out when concentrating

  • Speech difficulty

Plantar reflex

What is it? When you run a finger down the sole of your baby’s foot from heel to toes, they will flex their foot and pull it away.

Signs that it has been retained

  • Toe walking

  • Unusual gait

  • Poor balance and stability

  • Trouble with vision and other senses

There are a number of fairly simple exercises that can help your baby to successfully integrate primitive reflexes as they develop. Your chiropractor can help to identify which exercises can help and assist you in learning how to perform them safely and effectively.

What are postural reflexes?

As a child grows up, they begin to develop postural reflexes, which are responsible for posture, movement and balance. Primitive reflexes are gradually integrated into these new postural reflexes, allowing children to develop healthy, normal motor control. This shift is gradual, but should usually be complete by the age of about three and a half (5).

Not sure if your baby is integrating their primitive reflexes effectively? Come in and see our friendly team for an assessment and advice on how best to give your little one the best help to continue growing and developing.


1 Tools to Grow, Primitive Motor Reflexes & Their Impact on a Child's Function, 2016

2 Switched on Kids, About Primitive Reflexes, 2019

3 V Grant., This could be what's behind your kid's problems in school, Today’s Parent, 2018

4 B Elder, Integrated Learning Strategies, Plantar Reflex: Reasons why my Child may be a Toe Walker and has Poor Balance and Coordination, 2016

5 NeuroRestart, Postural Reflexes, 2022


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