What is the Tonic Neck Response?

Tonic Neck Response

Today we’re going to go over the tonic neck response.

When we talk about the tonic neck response it’s also talked about as the fencing stance. It’s noticed in infants as an automatic reflex. Whichever way the head is turned then the limbs on the same side towards which the head is turned tend to extend whereas the limbs on the opposite side tend to flex and so it can give infants this picture of being in the perfect fencer stance where they’ve got the arm out, the leg out, the hand up, the back leg bent as they’re turned that way.

So the fencing stance is what it’s called, but really that’s just a euphemism because that’s what it reminds us of. It’s really the tonic neck response.

Whichever way the head is turned in infants, the limbs on the side towards which it is turned tend to extend. The limbs on the opposite side tend to flex. What scientists have discovered though is this same response continues in a modified form even into adulthood with some adults. It’s universal in infants. It tends to go away as they mature and grow, but it actually finds reference occasionally even into adulthood.

So you’ve got the idea of the neck being turned to one side, the limbs on that side elongating, the limbs on the other side flexing. What they’ve found along with this as they’ve studied is that it used to be believed that if you were going to get maximum force out of using a particular limb your face had to be to the front but what they’ve actually found is that because of this tonic neck response is that if you will turn your head toward the limb that you are using you can actually exert more force.

Now I think weightlifters have known this for a long time. If you’ll ever watch someone in a gym curling a heavy amount of weight, they don’t look forward as they curl. They turn their head towards the arm that they’re using. They’re able to generate – they know intuitively – their body does that if they’ll turn their head towards the limb they’re using they can actually generate more force that way to they don’t turn their head away as they’re doing it, they turn towards it, and it actually increases the amount of force they can use. Once again, it’s sort of built into us. It’s sort of a response that we know bodily intuitively.

We don’t even really have to think about it but as scientists have studied it they have correlated and made this connection this instinct or this response or reflex that they see in infants and how it gets applied then amongst adults and grownups. It’s actually very fascinating, and I’d encourage you to study this more – this tonic neck response – and why the body tends to work that way – that wherever the head turns the limbs on that side extend. The limbs on the other side flex and how that plays itself out then in grownups as they use more exertion and force by turning their heads toward the limbs that they are using.


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by Mometrix Test Preparation | Last Updated: July 21, 2023