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A Short History of the Reflex Hammer
  1. Francisco Pinto
  1. Serviço de Neurologia, Hospital de Santa Maria, Avenida Prof. Egas Moniz, 1600 Lisbon, Portugal; E-mail: fjapinto{at}


There are several milestones in the early story of the reflex hammer: the discovery of percussion, the description of the clinical usefulness of muscle stretch reflexes, and the construction of the first devices.


Based on wine-growers’ practice of thumping their wine casks to measure the level of the liquid, the Austrian physician Leopold Auenbrugger (1722–1809) described clinical percussion of the chest, back and abdomen in 1761 (Auenbrugger 1761). But this new technique only entered clinical practice in 1826, when the French physician Pierre Adolphe Piorry (1794–1879) invented the pleximeter – a resonator, struck with a finger when applied to the chest (Piorry 1828). In about 1828, inspired by the Swiss veterinary practice of percussing the skull of cattle to detect hydatid cysts (Swieten 1765), the Scottish physician Sir David Barry (1781–1836) fashioned a hammer to strike the pleximeter (Schiller 1967). But Piorry considered the hammer superfluous and

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