Applied Kinesiology

By Patrick Marsolek (4/2010)

Does your body know what is right or wrong for you? Can you use your body to discover the roots of an illness, find out what foods are good for you, look into your future or even find truth? There are many different alternative therapy practitioners who believe you can. Have you been to a chiropractor, experienced Touch For Health or Body Talk, or had your Naturopath test you to deteriming what allergies you have or which vitamins you should be taking? All of these therapies use a variation of a modality called ‘muscle testing’ as part of the therapy they offer.

This tool is used in many different ways; it is strongly supported by practitioners and equally strongly ridiculed by skeptics. So what is it exactly? The most common form of muscle testing requires one person to act as the practitioner and one as the patient. The patient extends his arm out to the side of his body and holds it firmly in place. The practitioner pulls or pushes down on his arm while holding an intention or asking a question. If there is a strong response, this is taken to be a “Yes” response. If there is a weak response, it means “No”. Depending on the therapy that is being used, the strength of particular muscles may also relate to particular physical organs or energetic systems in the person’s body.

This basic tool is called by many names – energy testing, manual muscle testing, applied kinesiology, and neuromuscular biofeedback – just to name a few. Even dowsing uses the muscle response which is amplified by the movement of a pendulum or dowsing rods. The information obtained from the muscle testing is then applied in many different ways, depending on the treatment modality. For example, in Touch for Health, the anterior deltoid muscle is correlated to the gall bladder meridian. A weakness in that muscle suggests that a certain treatment of that energy system is needed.

Applied Kinesiology (AK) is an established chiropractic diagnostic system that evaluates structural, chemical and mental aspects of health using manual muscle testing, alongside more conventional diagnostic methods. AK is different from kinesiology which is the scientific study of human movement. The essential premise of applied kinesiology is that every organ dysfunction is accompanied by a weakness in a specific corresponding muscle, a viscero-somatic relationship. AK has thoroughly mapped out  correlations that are not based on traditional anatomy but are understood in terms of meridians similar to those used in Chinese medicine. Proper positioning of the muscle that is being tested is paramount to ensure that the muscle in question is the prime mover, minimizing interference from adjacent muscle groups.

Therapy localization is another diagnostic aspect of AK. The patient places a hand which is not being tested on the skin over an area suspected to be in need of therapeutic attention. This fingertip contact focuses the mind on the relevant area, leading to a change in muscle response from strong to weak or vice versa when therapeutic intervention is indicated. If the area touched does not need intervention, the muscle response is unaffected.

In 2003, AK was the 10th most frequently used chiropractic technique in the United States, with 43.2% of chiropractors using it in their practice. It is also being used by naturopaths, medical doctors, dentists, nutritionists, physical therapists, massage therapists, and nurse practitioners. In Germany the use of AK is commonly used by dentists to determine the patient’s intolerance for certain dental materials.

These correspondences between muscles and organs in AK are not shared by mainstream medical theory. There is no scientific understanding of the proposed underlying theory of a viscerosomatic relationship. Skeptics have called AK "quackery," “pseudo science,” "magical thinking," and a misinterpretation of the ideomotor effect, of which I’ll say a bit more about later.

There have been some studies of AK showing clinical efficacy. For example, one study showed a high degree of correlation between AK muscle testing for food allergies and antibodies for those foods. The AK procedure in this study involved stimulation of taste receptors followed by muscle testing for change in strength. The patient was determined to be allergic to foods that disrupted muscle function. Blood drawn subsequently showed the presence of antibodies to the foods which were found to be allergenic through AK assessment.

On the critical side, some recent peer-reviewed studies looking at all of the AK research that has been done have concluded that the evidence does not support the use of AK for the diagnosis of physical diseases. In 1998, the Danish Chiropractic Association, following public complaints from patients receiving AK instead of standard chiropractic care, determined that applied kinesiology is not a form of chiropractic care, must not be presented to the public as such and should not be performed in a chiropractic clinic. One of the difficulties for the skeptics and for mainstream science is that there is no scientific understanding or detailed theory to explain how muscle testing works. Still there are many practitioners who believe the effectiveness of AK and use it frequently, and their patients are pleased with the outcomes.

Some alternative therapies that use muscle testing don’t require the correlation of one muscle to one system or organ, but believe, instead, that whatever muscle is being tested is giving feedback for the whole energetic system of the person. Thus, no matter which muscle is being tested, its strength or weakness will relate to the question being asked by the practitioner. If a naturopath is testing a patient for a particular supplement, she will have the patient hold the supplement in her hand. The patient’s entire mind/body system will get stronger or weaker in response and be revealed in the muscle test of the arm or another muscle in the body.

Amazingly, this same response can also show up in a surrogate. Another person can stand in for a patient when the patient cannot be present or for some reason can’t be tested. The practitioner can test this surrogate as if she were the patient and achieve similar results. Some therapists will even use their own bodies to ascertain the effectiveness of a therapy for their patients.

One common technique for self muscle testing is to touch the index finger and thumb of each hand together so that they are interlocked like a chain. Then the practitioner asks a question of herself and pulls her hands apart while noticing how much resistance she feels before the hands separate. If she feels a strong resistance, this is a “Yes” response. Another variation is to just rub the thumb and forefinger of one hand together and notice how much resistance or stickiness there is. A smoother response, indicates a “Yes”.

The sense of stickiness or resistance is another hybrid of muscle testing that was used in the past by the chiropractic profession in tools such as the Toftness Device or Sensometer. A Toftness Device is essentially a hollow tube with a plate or membrane on top of it. The practitioner places this device on the body of a patient while rubbing the membrane with a finger. He would then ‘read’ the stickiness he perceived. It is believed that these kinds of devices are able to sense subtle energies in the body, similar to radionics devices which have been around since the early 1900’s. The medical establishment rallied against the use of these kinds of devices, labeling them pseudo science and quackery as early as 1920. Although the Toftness Device and similar devices were banned by the United States District Court in Wisconsin in January 1982, they are still being used and are available today.

Critics claim that all the forms of muscle testing are tapping into the ideomotor response. The ideomotor concept has been around for over 150 years and refers to the process whereby a thought or mental image (ideo) brings about a seemingly automatic or reaction in the muscle (motor). This mind-body response can be outside the conscious awareness of the individual.

Ray Hyman, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Oregon, has argued that muscle testing is heavily influenced by the ideomotor and ideodynamic responses in individuals and has no validity as a medical practice. In 1992 he was hired by the State of Oregon as an expert witness in a trial of four chiropractors using a Toftness-like device. He argued very convincingly that a muscular response could be influenced by the subconscious expectations of the practitioner. He produced a video for the court showing how easily a group of students experienced effects with a pendulum and with a sticky plate in accordance with implanted expectations.

You can try it for yourself in a simple exercise. Find something that will act as a pendulum. It could be a necklace, a washer tied to a string, or some similar weighted object. Then let the pendulum dangle from your fingers. Hold your hand still and imagine watching a turning wheel like a potter’s wheel or a record turn table. Without doing anything consciously, your pendulum may start to rotate in a similar direction. If you have a strong response, you may even have the sense that something else is controlling the movement of your pendulum.

Dr. Hyman’s argument, and that of most skeptics, is that all muscle testing and dowsing responses can easily be explained by the ideomotor response. He also argues that elaborate and grandiose theories are devised to explain the observed effects, usually involving some form of energy, some kind of external force, or an energy new to science or as yet undetected.

I agree with Dr. Hyman that often grandiose theories are proposed. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, I have experienced some of the uses of muscle testing quite successfully. I’ve even seen a dowser use a pendulum to locate water. There are hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are using varieties of muscle testing and are quite happy with the results. What is going on?

Dean Radin and other parapsychological researchers have conducted replicable studies on gut feelings, showing that a person’s gut responds to someone else’s distance intention or influence. These seemingly intuitive responses are physically measurable in the body, though they are often not consciously recognizable. He proposes that there is an entanglement of minds and bodies related to the entanglement of quantum particles, which might account for these responses and a wide range of other phenomena. (I discussed this entanglement in more depth in AR issue #80.)

What these studies and others like them might suggest is that, even if muscle testing is an ideomotor response, the source of that movement could be coming from outside the conscious mind and even outside the physical body. It has been shown how this response is connected to intention or awareness. If this is the case, no elaborate theories of physical energies or obscure forces are necessary to explain how we can receive information through the body.

When people attempt to explain how muscle testing works through physical cause and effect means, their theories fall short and can’t stand up to critical scrutiny, as is the case with radionics, Toftness-like devices and even some dowsers. There may not be a causal explanation. This lack of causal explanation may be why the chiropractic profession as a whole is struggling with the use of AK. When a practitioner tries to explain it or teach it as a physical, mechanical process, he will run into error. Those who rely only on their logical understanding of the physical connections, without having the intuitive sensibilities, won’t be as successful. The non-materialistic implications of muscle testing might also explain why the medical establishment so strongly resists its use.

Another challenge when using this tool is how to determine if a conscious or unconscious expectation is driving the ideomotor response or if it is coming from another source. As with the pendulum experiment, it is easy to influence the effects. I do believe that people with an intuitive gift or those who have learned to use their technique accurately can use the muscular response very effectively. In teaching people how to experience intuition, I’ve seen that some people have more talent than others, in the same way people have a talent in music or mathematics. Without lots of natural talent, someone can learn to play the piano or receive an accurate muscle testing response.

There are energy healers, chiropractors and physicians who do enjoy very good results. There are dowsers who can find water and are regularly employed all over the world by ranchers and farmers. There are people who live healthy lives choosing for themselves what foods to eat or what supplements to take, while utilizing their own “Yes” or “No” response with their sticky fingers.

Yet there is always a chance that your muscular response – be it the strength of your arm or the feeling in your gut – might be influenced by your own unconscious beliefs and expectations. Be suspicious of a person or a group who claims to have 100 percent accuracy with any modality that uses muscle testing. Your doctor  or your dowser may not always be correct. David Hawkins, the author of Power vs. Force, claims to have developed a system using muscle testing which differentiates truth from falsehood and is always accurate. Moreover, he claims to be able to evaluate the evolution and level of people, thoughts, ideas, even his own writings, which, of course, rate extremely high. Dr. Hawkins also claims that anyone getting different results, isn’t evolved enough to perceive reality accurately. It is not unusual that an intuitive source of information like this is taken as the absolute truth. I doubt his claims.

Even if you don’t use muscle testing to boost yourself up and create impenetrable, self-supporting theories, the results from muscle testing can be hard to duplicate. The expression of this intuitive form has uniqueness and individuality. Many intuitives have a gift and they develop a system that works. Yet they find it hard to teach. One example I’ve experienced is the ColorPrint system developed by Jamie Champion. He has developed a typology whereby different colors have different energetic, emotional and physical qualities. He proposes that each person has five basic colors which reveal different aspects of his nature. He muscle tests you to determine what your colors are. Then you can explore the colors for yourself as you would the personal significance of your astrological sign. The colors Jamie ‘read’ as my ColorPrint really fit me and brought insight into my life as I engaged with them. I feel that he is a gifted intuitive and he uses muscle testing to channel his talent. He shared with me that he was having difficulty finding someone who can duplicate his ‘reading’ ability.

If you are seeing a chiropractor, a doctor or a gifted intuitive, you may receive the benefits of muscle testing. If they are skilled and have learned to use their intuitive ability, you can save yourself lots of time, money and resources and quickly move toward better health. Regardless of who they are though, I recommend that you also trust your own felt sense. As with any intuitive reading, take the information you receive and weigh it against what you know within yourself. If you are curious about how muscle testing works, you may want to learn to do it. You can always weigh the intuitive information you receive from your doctor or your own intuition against what you know through more logical means. Healthy skepticism can help you make an effective choice. You can listen to your gut when it’s telling you something.

Patrick Marsolek is the director of Inner Workings Resources. He leads groups and teaches classes in consciousness exploration, personal development, healing and  compassionate communication. He offers his services to businesses, individuals and families, and in self-empowerment seminars throughout the Northwest. He is a clinical hypnotherapist and the author of A Joyful Intuition. See for more information.