Body processes

Grasping Reflex – Function, Task & Diseases

Grasp reflex

In the first weeks and months of life, newborns have a large number of unconscious motor reaction patterns to certain stimuli. The grasp reflex is one of them and consists of a strong grab with the hand with touch and pressure on the palm of the hand. The toes and the sole of the foot also curve in a suggested gripping movement when the sole of the foot is touched. The grasping reflex probably served originally to hold on to the mother reflexively.

What is the grasp reflex?

Newborns have a variety of motor reflexes at birth . These are unconscious behavioral patterns that are triggered by certain sensory stimuli. The development and disappearance of the reflexes depends less on the time of birth and more on the time of conception (age of conception).

The grip reflex can be divided into the hand and foot grip reflexes, which develop and disappear independently of one another. When touching and pressure on the palms of the newborn’s hands, it subconsciously responds with a firm grasping movement of the fingers (closing a fist).

The foot grab reflex works in the same way. However, the foot grip reflex consists only of the bending of the toes and bending of the sole of the foot when touching and pressing on the sole of the foot, i.e. only an implied gripping movement. The possibilities of grasping with the feet have receded in humans in terms of developmental history.

The hand and foot gripping reflexes can be detected from around the 32nd week of conception and disappear in the hand at the latest by the 9th month of life and the foot gripping reflex recedes at the latest by the end of the first year of life or when learning to walk upright.

Function & task

In newborns, the central nervous system , especially the cerebrum , is not yet fully developed and fully functional, because otherwise the size of the head would make the birth process even more problematic. Many necessary – especially motor – abilities, which later take place consciously, are replaced by unconsciously controlled reflexes, which are comparable to self-controlling control circuits and are triggered by certain stimuli.

The most important function and benefit of the grasping reflex, especially the hand grasping reflex, was probably at an earlier stage of human development that the newborn could actively hold on (cling) to the mother or to objects similar to a rod or rope. As a result, the mother or another person temporarily had both hands free to do other things.

The foot grip reflex probably also served to hold on and cling, but today it only works rudimentarily because the mobility of the metatarsal bones and the length of the toes as well as the musculature have receded over the course of human development.

While the strong hand grip reflex is still fully functional today and the baby can hold on to bars, ropes or even the mother’s clothing during the first months of life, the foot grip reflex no longer fulfills this function. However, it can be used to maintain the rudimentary gripping ability with the foot through appropriate exercises during the transition to voluntary motor skills .

The gripping reflex serves less to reflexively hold on to objects than to be able to hold on to oneself.

The foot grab reflex can also prove troublesome if it does not resolve during the learning phase of upright walking. The child then has difficulty putting weight on the entire sole of the foot because instead they constantly want to grab their foot and tend to try to stand and walk on tiptoe.

Diseases & Ailments

The early childhood reflexes in newborns – also called primitive reflexes – serve a variety of purposes. A part of the reflections is z. B. only important prenatally, to protect the baby before birth from entanglement of the umbilical cord with the limbs and to set up the baby through certain own movements to the best possible position for the birth.

Although the grasp reflex is not of primary importance for survival in humans today, it is nevertheless important that the reflex is mature at birth. A weakly developed or completely absent gripping reflex indicates serious direct muscle or joint diseases or neuronal maldevelopments that should definitely be clarified. As a rule, if the grasping reflex is not developed, other motor reflexes are also affected.

Normally, within the first months of life, the primitive reflexes are gradually overridden and replaced by conscious motor actions. This occurs through increased maturation of the neocortex and myelination of the afferent nerves , which can transmit sensory messages to the central nervous system faster than reflex arc messages can.

The reduction of the gripping reflex as well as the reduction of other reflexes only takes place according to the rules if the child trains the reduction through constant multi-sensory learning, through conscious motor actions (e.g. playfully). In some children and even adults, remnants of the primitive reflexes have been preserved, which can lead to impaired learning, attention deficit, and behavioral problems.

Weaknesses in arithmetic, reading and spelling are also sometimes attributed to a lack of reduction in certain primitive reflexes. If e.g. B. If the foot grab reflex does not regress as a result of the toddler trying to walk, learning to stand and walk upright is extremely difficult. The foot tries again and again to curve inwards in an imaginary gripping movement when the sole of the foot is loaded.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.