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Reflex Hammers / Wartenberg Wheels & More

Reflex hammers are medical tools often utilized by medical professionals to facilitate reflex tests. There are several popular percussion hammer styles, and Avacare Medical is proud to provide you with them all. Read More...

What is a Reflex Hammer?

A reflex hammer is a medical hammer that is usually made from a strong metal compound and is a diagnostic tool used by healthcare professionals during neurological physical examinations* to ensure that deep tendon reflexes are working correctly and up to par. The test is done by quickly and lightly tap the reflex hammer immediately below the kneecap and checking the patient for an automatic knee-jerk reaction, also known as the patellar reflex. An automatic movement due to this light tap below the knee is an indication of a properly working nervous system. If there is no automatic reaction, this may point to an impairment or abnormality in the individual’s nervous system.

The History of the Reflex Hammer

Neurologists once used direct finger taps to elicit muscle stretch reflexes. Often, chest percussion hammers were also used for this purpose. Chest percussion hammers weren’t designed to be used to test reflexes; they were actually made to be used for chest examinations.

It wasn’t until the 1870’s that doctors realized the value of using a medical percussion hammer to test knee reflexes. The first reflex hammer was developed in 1888 by Dr. John Madison Taylor, an American neurologist. Since then, many other popular reflex hammers, which are also referred to as percussion hammers, have been developed for the purpose of testing the nervous system.

Reflex Hammers Today

Although the healthcare field has had unprecedented growth and development in the last few centuries, reflex hammers are still recognized and valued as a premier tool for testing the nervous system.

Today, reflex hammers are available from many of the industry’s leading medical equipment brands. Avacare Medical can provide you with quality percussion hammers from Med-Tech, McKesson, and other noted companies.

Common Types of Reflex Hammers

  1. Wartenberg Wheel: This tendon hammer has a rotating spur (a disk with spikes coming out of its rim) at its head. Unlike other tendon hammers, the Wartenberg pinwheel isn’t designed to be tapped lightly on the knee; rather, it should be gently rolled across the patient’s skin to test nerve reactions.
  1. Tomahawk Hammer: This hammer has retained the shape of the original reflex hammer that was designed by Dr. James M. Taylor. It has a head which is typically made of synthetic rubber, and a metal handle. It can also be referred to as a Taylor Hammer, after its developer, Dr. Taylor. This the hammer of choice for many American medical professionals.
  1. Babinski Hammer: Designed by Joseph Babiński in 1912 and modified by Abraham Rabiner, this hammer has a flat metal disk at its head, and a metal handle that is often detachable.
  1. Queen Square Reflex Hammer: Created for use in a hospital located in Queen Square, London, this tendon hammer looks similar to the Babinski hammer, and is popular among English neurologists. The handle has a sharp tapered tip, and there is a metal disk at the top with a soft plastic rim. Nowadays, the Queen Square hammer is sometimes formed with plastic molds.



*According to Wikipedia, “A neurological examination is the assessment of sensory neuron and motor responses, especially reflexes, to determine whether the nervous system is impaired. This typically includes a physical examination and a review of the patient's medical history, but not deeper investigation such as neuroimaging.”