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August 1969

The Signs of Kernig and Brudzinski

Author Affiliations

Durham. NC
From the Divisions of Neurosurgery and Neurology, Duke University Medical Center and the Durham Veterans Administration Hospital, Durham, NC.

Arch Neurol. 1969;21(2):215-216. doi:10.1001/archneur.1969.00480140115012

A NEW clinical sign, like a new treatment, often seems to have its greatest value in the hands of its promulgator. Josef Brudzinski (1874-1917), a Polish pediatrician,1 claimed that his neck sign for meningitis was present in a higher percentage of cases than Kernig's sign, which had been described earlier for the same condition.2,3 The usefulness of Brudzinski's test has been well documented by later observers, but its superiority to Kernig's sign has not been established.4

In 1884, Vladimir Kernig (1840-1917), a Russian physician,1 described a sign consisting of limitation in passive extension at the knee because of spasm of the hamstring muscles.3 Kernig preferred to elicit his sign with the patient in the sitting position, though the test is rarely done this way now. It is more convenient to allow the patient to remain in the supine position and attempt to extend the knee