What is Muscle Testing?

Darrell Laurant

Kinesiology is the scientific study of the body's movements. Applied kinesiology, or muscle testing, is branch within alternative medicine that tests the muscles' function and uses those results to determine the overall health of the body. Because muscle testing is not deeply rooted in traditional notions of science, it has not gone without criticism.

Muscle testing typically involves the movement of larger muscles of the body.
Muscle testing typically involves the movement of larger muscles of the body.

Muscle testing is a simple procedure with potentially complex implications. Like acupuncture, it is a derivative of Chinese medicine, and therefore ties into a belief that the body is governed by a network of meridians that convey energy. Despite its recent rise in popularity, muscle testing is not new, having first been introduced into western culture in the early 20th century. It is related to, and is also known as, applied kinesiology which is generally said to have been developed by chiropractor, George Goodheart in the 1960s.

A person may be asked to extend their arm in a certain direction for muscle testing.
A person may be asked to extend their arm in a certain direction for muscle testing.

The International College of Applied Kinesiology (ICAK) has established an "operational definition" for manual muscle testing. It essentially defines the test as a tool to evaluate how the nervous system helps the muscles adapt to the changing pressure it receives by the examiner. A qualified examiner of a muscle test, therefore, should be properly educated in muscle function and have had proper training in anatomy, physiology, and neurology. Manual muscle testing, ICAK contends, is not only science, but art as well.

Originally, Goodheart combined the existing chiropractic and medical techniques of muscle testing with the concepts he learned from studying Chinese medicine. This brought him to the conclusion that every muscle in the body works in concert with a complementary muscle. Problems arise when this relationship becomes imbalanced, a condition he thought to be related to the improper flow of energy.

Confusion about muscle tests, however, arises in the varied scope practitioners give them. Some practitioners think of muscle testing as the basic investigation of muscle weakness. Others use the results of muscle tests to make conclusions about the client's relationship between the mind and body.

The basic muscle test typically involves a hands-on exploration, using gentle pushing and pulling, of various large muscles. For example, the person being tested might be asked to extend one arm to the side. This can be conducted in a standing, seated or prone position. If the testing is for food allergies, that food might be held in one hand while pressure is applied to the extended arm. Based on the reaction to the pressure, and an orientation with the energy meridians, the practitioner is said to be able to determine whether that food is acceptable to the body.

Another test employed by muscle testers involves a series of questions and and answers. As the tester asks the subject a several questions known to be true or false, pressure is applied to various muscles. When the subject answers falsely, the muscle yields much more easily to the pressure.

As might be expected, the use of muscle testing for such purposes is highly controversial, and some studies have shown no difference between a reaction to a specific food substance or herb and a placebo. On the other hand, the increased acceptance of acupuncture has also made muscle testing more appealing to the general public.

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