Manual muscle testing is used by physical therapists. Complementary health experts use a similar test for food sensitivities. Is the test accurate?
“Am I allergic to dairy?”
“How many pills of this supplement should I take?”
“Should I go to Hawaii or Costa Rica for vacation?”
Some chiropractors and other holistic health practitioners use the technique of muscle testing to answer questions like these. Well, at least the first two questions. You can also use the technique on yourself to answer the third question.
But is the test accurate? Is it accepted by clinical research? And even if it’s not supported by science, does that mean anybody who uses the testing method is a quack? Lots of people use homeopathy despite the fact the mainstream medical community is often hostile to it.
The answers to these questions depends on the type of testing. Or, more accurately, what the test is used for, how it’s used, and by whom. Physical therapists use manual muscle testing techniques to assess a patient’s ability to contract a specific muscle.
An example of the testing used in physical therapy would be if you had nagging shoulder pain and visited a physical therapist. The PT would have you perform a series of muscle tests. These tests would evaluate the range of motion in a given joint to determine where the muscle weakness is coming from.
Physical therapists evaluate patients’ range of motion using manual muscle testing grades. These grades range from Grade 0 to Grade 5. The higher the grade, the greater the ability of the patient to fully complete a range of motion and resist the applied pressure of the physical therapist.
The test used for muscle strength, at least the method practiced during physical therapy evaluations, is widely accepted in the medical community. However, the techniques that chiropractors, fitness trainers, nutritionists and other alternative health practitioners use is a different story.
Muscle testing techniques
A chiropractor may use a technique where the patient is resisting the applied pressure of the chiropractor. But the difference between the muscle testing technique of the chiropractor and the physical therapist is this:
Both the chiropractor and physical therapist are assessing muscle weakness. But the chiropractor is not only assessing muscle weakness. The chiropractor (or nutritionist, etc.) is testing for food allergies and sensitivities. Alternative health practitioners who use the techniques also evaluate if a supplement will be beneficial for a patient and if so, what an effective dosage would be.
Also called “Applied Kinesiology,” muscle testing techniques were developed by a chiropractor in the mid-1960s. There’s an International College of Applied Kinesiology (ICAK), which requires participants to already be certified or accredited in a field of medicine, either medical or complementary.
Most popular muscle testing technique
The ICAK training uses several different muscle testing techniques. The one technique familiar to people who have heard of testing for nutritional evaluation is as follows:
Either standing up or seated, a patient will have their non-dominant arm out to the side, shoulder-high. Let’s use eggs as an example for nutritional evaluation. If the patient or chiropractor wants to determine if eggs cause muscle weakness, and therefore sensitivity or allergy, here’s how the test will go:
The patient will hold in their dominant arm an egg. Or, the patient will hold a vial of powder that mimics the chemical composition of eggs, especially the protein that would trigger egg allergy. And sometimes, a chiropractor will just say the word “eggs” while performing the following test:
With the patient’s outstretched non-dominant arm fully extended and engaged, the chiropractor applies resistance to the wrist. If the patient’s arm easily drops or is pushed down, the chiropractor may determine eggs cause an imbalance in the patient. Conversely, if the patient is able to resist the applied pressure, then eggs do not represent a problem.
ICAK frowns upon practitioners who use only this form of muscle testing. However, this is the test that is most often used by alternative practitioners to assess not only nutrients, but other lifestyle factors. The method is used to assess sensitivity to electronics (EMFs) and alcohol, etc.
Is muscle testing accurate?
One study published in Explore concludes no, it’s not. The test involved 51 participants in three phases. The first trial was done by one kinesiologist. The second was administered by another kinesiologist. The third test was a self-administered test. This self muscle test uses a hand grip device, called a dynamometer. The participants either were muscle tested with a vial of saline solution (harmless) or a vial containing a toxic solution. The test was double-blind. This means that neither the participants nor the kinesiologists were aware of what vial they were holding.
The results: Of the 151 sets of trials, the toxic vial was identified correctly in 80 of them. That’s only 53% accuracy. One might interpret these results this way: “Applied kinesiology is no more accurate than flipping a coin.”
But this isn’t the only evidence debunking muscle testing when used in this capacity. The researchers in this study looked at several other trials. They took into account at least 50 papers on applied kinesiology and six prior non-clinical trials. The researchers concluded, “The research published by the Applied Kinesiology field itself is not to be relied upon, and in the experimental studies that do meet accepted standards of science, Applied Kinesiology has not demonstrated that it is a useful or reliable diagnostic tool upon which health decisions can be based.”
Muscle testing yourself
Make an “OK” sign with your non-dominant hand. After asking a question out loud, with the pointer finger with your other hand, try to break the seal of the pointer finger and thumb on your “OK” hand. If the seal can be broken, then the answer is no.
Self-muscle testing is used to get answers to the subconscious mind. This is at least what proponents of the test believe. There’s also the swaying back or forth test. This involves standing upright. If the answer is a positive affirmation, you will lean forward. Or, if the answer negatively impacts you, you will sway back. If an answer is neutral, you won’t sway back or lean forward.
Some people use this self test to determine sources of anger or irritability. “Am I in a bad mood because my mother-in-law wouldn’t mind got on my nerves the other day?” Or, people can use the techniques to answer that very important question in the beginning of this post: Hawaii or Costa Rica for vacation?
Muscle testing for allergies
One of the biggest criticisms of muscle testing for allergies is that there’s no definitive clinical proof it’s accurate. It’s hard for the patient’s or practitioner’s bias to be factored in the equation during the test. For example, if a chiropractor believes gluten is bad for everybody, maybe the chiropractor will use increased pressure in the muscle test. And, if the patient possesses a predetermined notion that the chiropractor thinks gluten is bad, then maybe the patient will apply less resistance, either consciously or subconsciously.
As mentioned above, practitioners of muscle testing for allergies will use a vial containing an extract or sample of a particular food substance or allergen. While you hold the vial, the practitioner will instruct you to hold the vial in front of different organs of your body. If you show any muscle weakness, it’s assumed you may have a food allergy.
As for self-muscle testing, there’s no way to factor out bias. If you really love ice cream, maybe the seal of the thumb and pointer finger wouldn’t break after you ask, “Is ice cream bad for me?
Although clinical research does not support the use of the testing method for food allergies, there is no doubt many people believe it’s effective. And if sugar pills, placebos or using a muscle test make people feel better, where’s the harm in that?