applied kinesiology

What is Applied Kinesiology

Applied kinesiology is a diagnostic technique in alternative medicine that is supposedly able to diagnose illnesses and select treatments by testing muscle strength and weakness 1). Applied kinesiology also called specialized kinesiology should be distinguished from kinesiology (biomechanics), which is the “scientific study of movement”. According to the International College of Applied Kinesiology 2), applied kinesiology is a “system that evaluates structural, chemical and mental aspects of health using manual muscle testing combined with other standard methods of diagnosis”. Applied kinesiology is a non-invasive system of evaluating body function. The combined terms “applied” and “kinesiology” describe the basis of this system, which is the use of manual muscle testing (MMT) to evaluate body function through the dynamics of the musculoskeletal system 3). Applied kinesiology basic notion is that every organ dysfunction is accompanied by a specific muscle weakness, which enables diseases to be diagnosed through muscle-testing procedures. The principle belief behind applied kinesiology is that doctors can tell what is wrong with a patient by seeing the way his/her muscles respond when they are pushed on. Applied kinesiology technique uses manual muscle testing (MMT) not just to evaluate the functional integrity of muscle and nerve supply, but also as a means to “diagnose structural [and functional], chemical, and mental dysfunctions” 4). Some of applied kinesiology distinguishing diagnostic procedures include the use of provocative tests (i.e., applied kinesiology challenge and therapy localization) in conjunction with manual muscle testing (MMT) to identify the need for treatment of neuromusculoskeletal, organic, and metabolic conditions 5). Muscle weakness is also considered diagnostic of preclinical or subclinical organic, non-neuromusculoskeletal disease. Applied kinesiology claims to identify specific allergies through measuring the patient’s muscle strength by manual muscle testing in the presence of a putative allergen 6).

A Michigan chiropractor George J. Goodheart came up with the concept of applied kinesiology in 1964 7). Goodheart claimed to have corrected a patient’s chronic winged scapula by pressing on nodules found near the origin and insertion of the involved serratus anterior muscle 8). This finding led to the origin and insertion treatment, the first method developed in applied kinesiology. Goodheart began practicing and teaching applied kinesiology to other chiropractors. He even started an organization called the Goodheart Study Group Leaders that now goes by the name of “The International College of Applied Kinesiology” 9). This is mostly used by chiropractors, but it has started to gain popularity with other practitioners. In recent years, applied kinesiology became the 10th most used chiropractic technique in the United States 10).

Applied kinesiology proponents claim that nutritional deficiencies, allergies, and other adverse reactions to foods or nutrients can be detected by having the patient chew or suck on these items or by placing them on the tongue so that the patient salivates. Some practitioners advise that the test material merely be held in the patient’s hand or placed on another part of the body. Many muscle-testing proponents assert that nutrients tested in these various ways will have an immediate effect: “good” substances will make specific muscles stronger, whereas “bad” substances will cause weaknesses that “indicate trouble with the organ or other tissue on the same nerve, vascular, nutrition, etc., grouping.” A leading applied kinesiology text 11), for example, states: “If a patient is diagnosed as having a liver disturbance and the associated pectoralis major [chest muscle] tests weak, have the patient chew a substance that may help the liver, such as vitamin A. If . . . the vitamin A is appropriate treatment, the muscle will test strong”. Treatments may involve specific joint manipulation or mobilization, various myofascial therapies, cranial techniques, meridian and acupuncture skills, clinical nutrition, dietary management, counseling skills, evaluating environmental irritants and various reflex procedures 12).

Applied kinesiology muscle testing

Manual muscle testing is a standard component of the neuromusculoskeletal physical examination 13). Manual muscle testing is useful in the assessment of weakness of muscles directly involved with pain, injury, and neuromusculoskeletal disorders. Manual muscle test was established by Kendall and Kendall 14), who held that when pressure is increasingly applied to a contracted muscle, the muscle either maintains its position (rated as “facilitated” or “strong”) or breaks away (rated as “inhibited” or “weak”). According to this rating system, a grade 5 manual muscle test is normal muscle strength, demonstrating complete (100%) range of movement against gravity, with firm resistance offered by the practitioner. Grade 4 is 75-percent efficiency in achieving range of motion against gravity with slight resistance, with decreasing increments of 25-percent efficiency with each lower grade to 0. A muscle graded 4 or less is considered inhibited, warranting interventions as described in the report 15).

Applied kinesiology manual muscle tests evaluate the ability of the nervous system to adapt the muscle to meet the changing pressure of the examiners test 16). This requires that the examiner be trained in the anatomy, physiology, and neurology of muscle function. The action of the muscle being tested, as well as the role of synergistic muscles, must be understood. Manual muscle testing is both a science and an art. To achieve accurate results, muscle tests must be performed according to a precise testing protocol. The following factors must be carefully considered when testing muscles in clinical and research settings 17).

  • Proper positioning so the test muscle is the prime mover
  • Adequate stabilization of regional anatomy
  • Observation of the manner in which the patient or subject assumes and maintains the test position
  • Observation of the manner in which the patient or subject performs the test
  • Consistent timing, pressure, and position
  • Avoidance of preconceived impressions regarding the test outcome by the tester
  • Utilizing non-painful contact ensuring a nonpainful execution of the test
  • Contraindications due to age, debilitative disease, acute pain and local pathology or inflammation

Does applied kinesiology work?

Applied kinesiology is a way of evaluating structural, chemical, and mental areas of health by using manual muscle testing (MMT) along with conventional methods. The idea behind applied kinesiology is that every organ dysfunction is associated with weakness in a corresponding muscle. This is called the “viscerosomatic relationship”. Applied kinesiology is just one of the many different types of alternative medicine with lacking studies to prove its effectiveness. The evidence for applied kinesiology is based mostly on anecdotal evidence from practitioners’ assessments of muscle response making it not very reliable. It is also argued that there is no scientific understanding of the viscerosomatic relationship. Only the anecdotal reviews have shown positive support for applied kinesiology. Every peer-reviewed study has concluded that there is no evidence that applied kinesiology is able to diagnose organic diseases or conditions. In the US, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology 18), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases 19) and the American Cancer Society 20) have all released position statements saying that applied kinesiology should not be used in the diagnosis of allergies, cancer, etc. In 2015 the Australian Government’s Department of Health published the results of a review of alternative therapies that sought to determine if any were suitable for being covered by health insurance; applied kinesiology was one of 17 therapies evaluated for which no clear evidence of effectiveness was found 21). There are also many other organizations just like these from other parts of the world that have a similar stance on this form of alternative medicine.

A double-blind, randomized study to assess the validity of applied kinesiology as a diagnostic tool concluded that “Applied kinesiology has not demonstrated that it is a useful or reliable diagnostic tool upon which health decisions can be based” 22). A review of the literature in applied kinesiology and specialized kinesiology 23) found there is insufficient evidence for diagnostic accuracy within kinesiology, the validity of muscle response and the effectiveness of kinesiology for any condition. Few studies evaluating specific applied kinesiology procedures either refute or cannot support the validity of applied kinesiology procedures as diagnostic tests 24). In particular, the use of manual muscle testing for the diagnosis of organic disease or putative pre/subclinical conditions is insupportable. A review of applied kinesiology literature showed the studies to be unreliable 25). Teuber and Porch-Curren 26) note that several studies refute applied kinesiology in diagnosis of food allergies and they concluded: “The weight of the evidence to date suggests that this diagnostic modality is not validated when subjected to scrutiny”. The Committee on Food Allergies 27) recommends that physicians use evidence-based, standardized procedures as the basis for food allergy diagnosis and avoid nonstandardized and unproven procedures such as applied kinesiology, immunoglobulin G panels or electrodermal testing. When food allergy is suspected, a patient should be evaluated by a physician who has the training and experience to select and interpret appropriate diagnostic tests.

Tschernitschek and Fink 28) reviewed applied kinesiology procedures including those used in dentistry. They concluded that there is a lack of evidence for applied kinesiology effectiveness, reliability, and validity 29). Haas 30) found that manual muscle testing reliability could not be substantiated before 1991 because of methodological and statistical limitations of published studies. Klinkoski and LeBoeuf 31) reviewed scientific papers published by the International College of Applied Kinesiology between 1981 and 1987. The authors 32) concluded that no conclusions could be drawn because of inadequate methodological quality based on clear identification of sample size, inclusion criteria, blind and naive subjects, reliable test methods, blind assessors, and statistical analysis. Motyka and Yanuck 33) found that the body of applied kinesiology research is equivocal, sometimes confirmatory of reliability and validity, other times not confirmatory, and often simply irrelevant due to various design flaws.

Researchers have subjected the manual muscle testing procedures to several well-designed controlled tests and some have found no difference in muscle response from one substance to another, while others have found no difference between the results with test substances and with placebos.

  • Three practitioners testing eleven subjects made significantly different assessments; their diagnoses of nutritional deficiencies did not correspond to the nutrient levels obtain by blood serum analysis; and that the responses to nutrient substances did not significantly differ from responses to placebos 34).
  • Another study found no effect from administering the nutrients “expected” to strengthen a muscle diagnosed as “weak” by applied kinesiology practitioners” 35).
  • Researchers who conducted an elaborate double-blind trial concluded that “muscle response appeared to be a random phenomenon” 36).
  • Another study showed that suggestion can influence the outcome of muscle-testing 37). During part of this experiment, college students were told that chewing M&M candies would give them instant energy that would probably make them test stronger. Five out of nine did so 38).
  • Four applied kinesiology practitioners tested seven patients who were extremely sensitive to wasp venom 39). Altogether, 140 muscle tests were done to see how the patients responded to preparations of venom or salt water in a bottle. If the test were valid, the venom bottles should result in “strong” reactions and the salt-water bottles should produce “weak” test reactions. However, the practitioners were unable to identify which bottles contained which 40). The results suggest that the use of Health Kinesiology as a diagnostic tool is not more useful than random guessing. This should at least be true in patients with insect venom allergy that are tested by examiners with average skills 41).
  • Several chiropractors were tested at a medical office while under unblinded and blinded conditions 42). During the volunteers could resist downward pressure when a drop of glucose was placed on their tongue but could resist when fructose was administered. The arm tests were repeated using substances in coded test tubes so that the volunteer, the chiropractors, and the onlookers could not tell which solution being applied to the volunteer’s tongue. When the code was revealed, there was no connection between ability to resist and whether the volunteer was given the “good” or the “bad” sugar 43).

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