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What is the instrument a doctor uses to check reflexes?

Learn about the instrument doctors use to test patients' reflexes.

Physicians use the plessor, sometimes known as the plexor or percussor, to measure a patient's reflexes. [© Shutterstock, 2009]
© Shutterstock, 2009
Physicians use the plessor, sometimes known as the plexor or percussor, to measure a patient's reflexes.

A plessor or plexor or percussor is a small hammer, usually with a soft rubber head, used to tap the body part directly. Also called a reflex hammer or a percussion hammer, it is used by a doctor to elicit reflexes by tapping on tendons.

In the most common test, the patient sits on a surface high enough to allow his legs to dangle freely, and the physician lightly taps the patellar tendon, just below the kneecap. This stimulus briefly stretches the quadriceps muscle on top of the thigh. The stretch causes the muscle to contract, which makes the leg kick forward. The time interval between the tendon tap and the start of the leg extension is about 50 microseconds. That interval is too short for the involvement of the brain and is totally reflexive. This test indicates the status of an individual's reflex control of movement.

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