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Do you walk on your toes? You might not even realize that you do it, but if you walk with a bounce in your step and your heels coming up off the ground, then there’s a good chance you are a toe-walker. And if that’s the case, it might be because of a retained primitive brain response. In this blog post, we will discuss the tendon guard reflex and how it can cause toe-walking in some people. We will also talk about what can be done to help integrate this reflex and get the brain out of survival mode.

What is the Tendon Guard Reflex?

The Tendon Guard Reflex (TGR) is an instinctive reaction that kicks in when the primitive brain perceives a threat. Its purpose is to prepare the feet, legs, and the rest of the body to fight or flee, as part of the fight-flight-freeze response to danger. This reaction eventually creeps up to the rest of the body, contracting through the feet, legs, back, and all the way up to the shoulders and neck. While this is not one of the primitive or postural reflexes, it is a response to stress that begins in the primitive brain. This response, if mature, is an amazing survival tool in our brains! It also makes our brain stop and pay acute attention to our environment – specifically through our hearing and vision – to scan for possible threats. If there’s danger, our body and brain are ready to react. If there is no danger, our brain sends the signal to our body that our muscles and tendons can relax, and the production of stress hormones can stop.

What if the TGR has not matured?

The TGR fully matures when babies do enough flexing and relaxing of the foot muscles, usually when they are creeping on their bellies and happily kicking their legs during tummy time. However, if the primitive brain is not fully developed, some of us might be left with a retained TGR. That means that our brain and body are left in a constant state of fight-or-flight with the TGR response activated. Yup, that means our muscles are constantly in contraction and our body is constantly flooded with stress hormones – even when there is no danger around. That’s because the primitive brain does not have access to logic – that’s in our cortex. So, even though we logically know that everyday situations we encounter (running late for work, having to pay bills, someone not answering a text message) are not life-or-death threats, our primitive brain can’t get the message.

What about the toe-walking?

That’s where the toe-walking comes in. With all the excess tension that builds in the back of the body, especially the feet and calves, our body’s natural reaction is to walk on our toes since it’s uncomfortable and hard for the heels to touch the floor. Here are some other challenges that can arise with an immature TGR:

  • Chronic tension in the Achilles tendon, calf, lower back, shoulders, and neck
  • Poor focus and comprehension
  • Sensory awareness challenges
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Difficulty walking and running
  • Toe-walking
  • Speech challenges
  • Challenges with planning and foresight
  • Hyperactivity
  • Hyper-fixation on unnecessary details
  • Lack of flexibility
  • Impulse control challenges
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Overall fatigue
  • Brain fog

What can we do about it?

While toe-walking might not seem like a big deal, it can actually be a sign that something else is going on with your body and your brain. When the TGR is active, it means that your brain is in survival mode…not so fun for anyone! Often, if the TGR is active, that also means that the primitive brain is underdeveloped.

Here are a few ideas for integrating the TGR at home:

  1. The TGR can become integrated or mature when we finish our primitive brain development through brain reorganization. Brain Reorganization is a noninvasive, movement-based approach to finishing lower brain development and integrating primitive reflexes. This is the most lasting way of giving the brain the solid foundation it needs to get out of survival mode and operate as efficiently as it was designed to. Click here to learn more!
  2. If you’re familiar with Brain Gym, try these exercises:
    • The Footflex
    • The Gravity Glider
    • The Calf-pump
    • The Foot-flex
    • Check out our TikTok video guiding you through a couple of these
  3. Foot massages! Massaging the bottom of your foot with your hands or a tennis ball will help to relax the muscles and eventually can help with diminishing the TGR response.