Uses and Abuses of Manual Muscle Testing

This article discusses manual muscle testing and the distinctions between kinesiology and applied kinesiology.  The application of manual muscle testing to the field of psychotherapy is also highlighted along with some controversy regarding energy psychology treatments that employ manual muscle testing as compared to those that utilize standard meridian stimulation routines that are often referred to as algorithms.

Manual Muscle Testing and Kinesiology

Manual Muscle Testing was developed by physical therapists, Florence and Henry Kendall (Kendall & Kendall, 1949), to evaluate muscle functions for diagnostic, treatment, and insurance purposes.  It is based in part on the self-evident fact that structural and nutritional deficits result in impaired muscle functioning, which can be assessed by physically assessing the strength of muscles.  This method, variably adapted, is widely employed by physical therapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, physiatrists, some body workers, and some psychotherapists, especially those who practice energy psychology.  When manual muscle testing is employed to evaluate psychological issues, it is based on the observation that muscle functioning often evidences distinct characteristics when the patient brings to mind or experiences environmental stressors.  For example, neuromuscular functioning is generally facilitated when the subject experiences positive emotions and muscular dysfunction is evidenced when the subject experiences distressing emotions.

Kinesiology is the study of muscles and muscular movement (kinesis, motion). It has been a field integral to physical education and sports since the early 1900s.  Kinesiology is distinct from applied kinesiology, which was later developed by chiropractor George Goodheart, Jr. (Goodheart, 1987) as a result of his unique applications of manual muscle testing and therapy localization (TL).  This involves a combination of manual muscle testing with touching specific points on the body, which is purported to assist in disclosing information relevant to the treatment of a structural, chemical, or mental problem.  The applied kinesiology approach to manual muscle testing is subtler than that employed by followers of the method developed by Kendall and Kendall, who use it to evaluate the integrity of muscles and their nervous system supply.  Walther (1988) describes the applied kinesiology approach as “functional neurology.”  In this regard, manual muscle testing is used to evaluate aspects of the nervous system, the meridian system, neurolymphatic system, neurovascular reflexes, various organ systems, etc. It is assumed that what is being evaluated is the energy to the muscle and not the muscle itself.  Any controversy about manual muscle testing appears to be related to aspects of the applied kinesiology approach as compared to the fundamental approach proffered by Kendall and Kendall.


Applied Kinesiology Offshoots

In addition to applied kinesiology, manual muscle testing is an integral aspect of offshoots such as Touch for Health (TFH), Three in One Concepts (One Brain), Educational Kinesiology (Edu-K), Health Kinesiology (HK), Behavioral Kinesiology (BK), Thought Field Therapy (TFT), and Energy Diagnostic and Treatment Methods (EDxTM) (Gallo, 1999, 2000, 2002).  Many of the approaches that use manual muscle testing, other than traditional kinesiology and applied kinesiology are often referred to as kinesiology as well.  In this article I refer to these approaches as neo-kinesiology to distinguish them from applied kinesiology and the original kinesiology.  It should be noted that there is a significant distinction between applied kinesiology and neo-kinesiology.  While latterincludes thought field therapy, One Brain, and several other approaches that employ manual muscle testing, many of these genres are considered by practitioners of applied kinesiology to be less professionally rigorous.

Although most practitioners of emotional freedom techniques (EFT) (Craig, 1995) do not utilize manual muscle testing to determining treatment needs, this approach nonetheless owes its development in part to the fact that Callahan (2001) employed manual muscle testing and other information from applied kinesiology to select the fifteen treatment points (twelve meridian points, two collector vessel points, and one neurolymphatic reflex) used in thought field therapy, emotional freedom techniques, and many other approaches. Since I have had the opportunity to work with many professionals who use manual muscle testing over the past twelve years, I have become quite impressed with its utility and its drawbacks.


Empirical Research on Manual Muscle Testing

While more research on manual muscle testing as employed by applied kinesiology and neo-kinesiologyis desirable, currently there is some empirical support for interexaminer reliability (Scoop, 1978; Lawson & Calderon, 1997) and accuracy in differentiating subjects’ congruent from incongruent verbal statements (Monti, Sinnott, Marchese, Kunkel, & Greeson, 1999).  Also a number of studies point to the value of manual muscle testing for allergy detection and regarding the relationship of manual muscle testing to nervous system function (Caruso & Leisman, 2000; Leisman, et al., 1995; Leisman, Shambaugh, & Ferentz, 1989; Motyka & Yanuck, 1999; Perot, Meldener, & Gouble, 1991; Schmitt & Leisman, 1998; Schmitt & Yanuck, 1999).   Similar to studies with various psychometric techniques, studies on manual muscle testing must utilize accomplished evaluators, since skill with the method necessarily impacts reliability and validity of the method.  Also the manual muscle testing technique can vary and this must be taken into account when assessing the meaning of the studies.

Muscle Testing Proficiency

Details on manual muscle testing are covered in Energy Diagnostic and Treatment Methods (Gallo, 2000). However, developing proficiency with manual muscle generally requires attending training with qualified trainers and practicing muscle testing with clients. What constitutes a skilled muscle tester is similar to what constitutes a skilled pianist, dancer, singer, or skier. Essentially it is an art and a skill developed with practice. Yet through this skillful art we are attempting to discern relevant therapeutic information. Certification in manual muscle testing is an important step along the way. That is partly what is involved in the process of becoming certified in applied kinesiology and energy diagnostic and treatment methods (EDxTM).

Therapeutic Algorithms vs. Causal Diagnostics

While I believe that manual muscle testing is of great value in the area of psychological treatment, it is obviously not a necessary component of psychotherapy, let alone energy psychology approaches.  In the field of energy psychology, initially I utilized and taught specific treatment algorithms and various comprehensive treatment algorithms that do not necessitate manual muscle testing.  Comprehensive algorithms include emotional freedom techniques, Tapas acupressure technique (TAT), negative affect erasing method (NAEM), healing energy light process (HELP), and related approaches.  Negative affect erasing method and the healing energy light process are treatment algorithms from energy diagnostic and treatment methods (EDxTM), which includes an array of diagnostic and treatment protocols, many of which involve manual muscle testing (Gallo, 2000).

When manual muscle testing is used to derive the specific acupoints to stimulate during treatment, this is often referred to as causal diagnosis. In this respect it is assumed that the specific meridians are associated with or are the energetic cause of the disturbance.  By diagnosing and treating acupoints that therapy localize in response to manual muscle testing, it is assumed that the basis of the problem has been addressed.  This is distinct from an algorithm approach, which does not assume that it is necessary to address the specific acupoints that are revealed during manual muscle testing.

Among the causal diagnostic approaches, thought field therapy includes the assumption that the meridians must be treated in the precise order in which they are diagnosed.  However, since each meridian is treated with one standard acupoint, thought field therapy does not assume that specific acupoints are as relevant as the meridians themselves.  The 14 thought field therapy acupoints are assumed to have a one-to-one relationship with the meridian as a whole. An interesting problem arises in that many of the points used in thought field therapy are not those that would be expected to impact the entire meridian according to traditional meridian theory.  Energy diagnostic and treatment methods do not assume that linear order of acupoints is relevant, although distinctions among acupoints are frequently seen as relevant (Gallo, 2000).  [As noted, similar to emotional freedom techniques, energy diagnostic and treatment methods include global algorithms.  Energy diagnostic and treatment methods also include meridian and non-meridian protocols for addressing core beliefs, temporal origins of problems, and elevating or expanding the client’s consciousness.]

Energy Psychology and Manual Muscle Testing

Assuming that the therapist has developed proficiency, manual muscle testing can be of value in causally diagnosing the most relevant meridians and specific acupoints that can be used to treat psychological and even many physical disorders.  Depending on the practitioner’s orientation, manual muscle testing can also be used to determine which neurovascular reflexes (NVR), neurolymphatic reflexes (NLR), chakras, nutritional supplements, flower essences, and homeopathic remedies can be used effectively in treatment.

Manual muscle testing can also be used to identify substances that are toxic to an individual and can help to determine if a treatment has alleviated the toxic reaction.  In these areas the tester is usually using an indicator muscle (IM) as compared to testing a specific muscle with respect to its various parameters (e.g., the muscles associated with certain meridians, neurovascular reflexes, neurolymphatic reflexes, etc.).  Indicator muscle testing entails using one muscle in conjunction with therapy localization to draw specific inferences.  For example, the middle deltoid muscle can be isolated as an indicator muscle, a distressing is sue can be attuned, and then the client can therapy localize (or touch) various alarm or neurovascular points to determine which meridian or neurovascular reflex can be utilized to alleviate the distress.  Involved meridians or neurovasculars are those that cause an indicator change from weak to strong or vice versa. With meridians, the inquiry can be refined further by also therapy localizing specific acupoints (e.g., bladder-1, bladder-2, bladder-10, etc,).  Again, the acupoints that result in an indicator change are those that can be effectively stimulated to alleviate the stress.

To some extent manual muscle testing is based on the naturalistic observation that muscles tend to weaken when a person is experiencing significant psychological stress. Diamond (1985) refers to this as double negative testing.   Therapy localization is based on the assumption that whatever changes the response of the indicator muscle (from weak to strong or vice versa) can be used to therapeutically address the specific problem or stressor.  So if a person recalls a disturbing incident and an indicator muscle weakens in response to the memory, whatever overrides that weakening can be used to treat the distress (e.g., Bach rescue remedy, stimulating bladder-2 or bladder-10, a specific mudra, holding the emotional neurovasculars, etc.).  In this respect, manual muscle testing is diagnostic and it is used to guide therapy.

Certainly manual muscle testing is a mechanical process and it requires skill with the technique and therapeutic finesse to maintain rapport and the flow of therapy.  But that is seldom a problem for the experienced therapist.  As the therapist becomes adept at manual muscle testing, intuitive skill and “flow” predominate in the same way that an accomplished skier or dances no longer comes to rely on a prescribed routine.  Skillfully the process is conducted in such a way that the therapist and client are joined on a discovery mission to observe what the body has to say. Obviously, this is a mind-body approach.  Nonetheless, this process is distinct from other aspects of therapy.  It is a diagnostic process but it is also therapeutic, since it assists therapist and client in observing the issue and therapeutic needs in a more refined way.  George Goodheart advised that we should be diagnostic giants and then the therapy is a simple matter.

Manual muscle testing can be a consciousness-raising therapeutic ritual not unlike ideomotor signaling and biofeedback.  As the therapist practices manual muscle testing, his/her intuitive abilities are frequently enhanced.  For example, the therapist will develop a hunch about what is needed therapeutically and the muscle test helps to corroborate or to refine the hunch.  This same consciousness-raising feature assists the client in developing his/her intuitions, which essentially means that the person’s internal communication network is operating to the fullest.  Just as a patient can learn to adjust blood pressure or muscle tension via biofeedback, as the patient observes his/her muscle response to various statements, consciousness and self-understanding can be enhanced.

I have found manual muscle testing helpful in locating the precipitating events and the client’s decision, conclusion, and perception that perpetuates the psychological problem.  I refer to this as orientation-to-origins (OTO) and it has some similarity to Diamond’s upsilon factor (Gallo, 1998), Goulding’s redecision therapy (Goulding and Goulding, 1979), and other therapeutic approaches that attempt to pinpoint the historical origin of a problem and to assist the client in altering perceptions.  The difference with orientation-to-origins is that muscle testing is employed, the energetic structure of the problem is assessed via therapy localization, and the patient is simply invited to alleviate the problem through any creative means, which is then assessed for effectiveness by the therapist.  Of course, manual muscle testing is not always necessary in this respect, but it is frequently invaluable.  Once we are attuned to the “deciding” event, the precise moment, the client can become aware of what he/she decided, concluded, perceived and is now free to shift his/her decision, conclusion, perception in a healthier direction.  The original decision is consistent with a negative attachment, which may have been entirely accurate and needed at the time.  But now things are different.  It is time to release that negative attachment and to flow freely.  To paraphrase T. S. Elliot, as the client returns to this place from which this started he comes to know it anew for the first time.  And now change becomes possible.  Consciousness is elevated and the energetic disruption is alleviated.

Also when a comprehensive algorithm does not help the client get to the core issue or relieve the distress, manual muscle testing can help us locate the most effective meridian points, diagnose the psychological reversal (PR) blocking treatment from working, find the treatment point or points that help to alleviate the reversal, etc. For example, a standard treatment for psychological reversal is to have the client tap on the side of his/her hand (small intestine-3) while sometimes making a statement about accepting oneself with the problem.  However, that does not always work to correct the reversal.  Sometimes the correction is achieved by stimulating another meridian acupoints, such as governing vessel-26, central vessel-24, kidney-27, etc.  Manual muscle testing is helpful in making this determination.

I realize that discussing manual muscle testing in this way is not a convincer of the validity and reliability of manual muscle testing or the value of it in terms of deciding on which acupoints to stimulate.  The only convincer in this area is clinical experience and refined research that demonstrates the effectiveness of manual muscle testing guided treatment. Presently skeptics are on safe ground, since sufficient definitive research does not yet exist (and likely many skeptics have never seriously worked with or developed skill with manual muscle testing).  However, in some respects I think of manual muscle testing as similar to a microscope or a stethoscope, which hardly require statistical research to support their utility. Arguments against the value of manual muscle testing would be like arguing that a microscope is unreliable since many inexperienced students are unable to see through it.  Obviously there is a difference between the tool and one’s proficiency at using it.  Nonetheless, skeptics provide an important service in requiring such validation and we should welcome statistical research, since there are a number of complications and questions that arise concerning the use of this tool.


Abuses of Manual Muscle Testing and Algorithms

One of the major problems involves the ways the manual muscle testing tool is used, which is the same with any tool.  So there are the problems of overuse and inappropriate use.  It is not always necessary to use manual muscle testing to determine what is therapeutically beneficial.  For instance, note the frequent effectiveness of emotional freedom techniques and negative affect erasing method in treating various categories of psychological problems.  If a simple recipe can get the desired result, it is undoubtedly more elegant and parsimonious to keep it simple.  Also this makes it easier for the client to self-treat, instead of having to rely on a therapist.  As the old adage goes, rather than simply giving a person a fish we want to teach him/her how to fish.

Even though this caution is warranted, we should keep in mind the possibility of a noteworthy difference between algorithm-based treatments and those derived from manual muscle testing or other diagnostic approaches that delineate specific treatment points. While some categories of problem generally can be treated with algorithms, they can also be successfully treated by stimulating acupoints derived via manual muscle testing (e.g., I have found that trauma can be successfully treated by using negative affect erasing method, the thought field therapy trauma algorithms, or emotional freedom techniques.).  IF it turns out (BIG IF) that there is no substantial difference between the two approaches once the subjective units of distress (SUD) are neutralized, the interesting question then becomes why stimulating bladder-10 vs. negative affect erasing method, for instance, gets the same result.  Could it be that it does not necessarily matter where we tap?  However, could there be a relevant difference between the results achieved by stimulating diagnostically-derived treatment points as compared to using an algorithm?  We might not observe a difference reducing distress, but are the treatment effects more substantial and longer lasting with one approach as compared to the other?  In this regard perhaps there is a deeper or qualitative change when diagnostically-derived acupoints are addressed.  That qualitative change might be the difference between traumatic memories no longer bothering the person as compared to the person’s life changing substantially for the better.  Neutralizing a trauma does not guarantee substantial change.  LeDoux (1996) notes that even when treatment alleviates the conscious distress of a trauma, neuroimaging techniques demonstrate that the amygdala, an integral structure in the brain’s limbic system, continues to activate when the person is exposed to cues associated with the traumatic event.  This suggests that the trauma continues to exist at a neuro-energetic level even when it is not registered in awareness.  While LeDoux was not referring to energy psychology approaches, the relationship might still apply and should not be overlooked with subsequent research.


Manual Muscle Testing and Intuition

Inappropriate uses of manual muscle testing might undermine a client’s ability to develop deeper intuition about his/her psychological functioning.  For example, a misguided muscle tester might convince a client that he/she knows better than the client and insist on the absolute accuracy of a conclusion drawn from an inaccurate test.  This might confuse the client in his/her ability to focus.  Note the research by Gendlin (1978) on the client’s ability to improve via focusing, regardless of the therapeutic approach used.  Obviously, we should use manual muscle testing humbly, with integrity and respect.  That is, the test is an indicator and it is always possible that we have not conducted the test accurately. Of course, if we are online with reality, the results derived from manual muscle testing will be the “proof.” If the client gets better as a result of treatments derived from our test, then we have some indication of the value of manual muscle testing.  Accurate manual muscle testing should help the client to change and to develop deeper awareness.


Unwarranted Uses

Essentially manual muscle testing should not be used to evaluate something that we have no way of corroborating.  For example, if we were to use muscle testing to determine if there is life on a specific distant planet or to determine if muscle testing taps into the wisdom of God, we have no way to determine if we are correct—or at least not for a long, long time.  Similarly, while manual muscle testing might be used by some to determine the level of truth of a book, religion, political ideology, etc., what would such a conclusion really mean?  Would this be THE TRUTH or rather the beliefs of the subject and/or evaluator?

Manual muscle testing is not a test of truth, but rather an indicator in the same way that any test is an indicator. It is acceptable to state that muscle testing indicated or suggested (and maybe even showed) as long as we are not implying that the testing proved anything beyond a shadow of a doubt. As a psychologist, I have applied psychometrics and projective techniques extensively over the years. Any tester worth his or her salt knows that a variety of measures are important in assessing any situation: history, interview, observations, different types of tests, and so on. In professional applied kinesiology, manual muscle testing is one measure taken into account in the process of developing an effective treatment approach. Manual muscle testing should not be considered to be the single most important piece of information to the neglect of other relevant information.

Manual muscle testing is based on certain assumptions, as all tests are. And one of the principal assumptions is that challenging acupoints, neurovascular reflexes, and some verbal statements can provide relevant therapeutic information. This is often information that neither the therapist nor client has in conscious awareness. However, the final test is the behavioral change. Both muscle responses and behavioral change are behavior, but obviously the latter is of a higher quality. Perhaps manual muscle testing would be more accurately referred to as a technique–manual muscle technique (MMT). It has been referred to as “muscle checking” by many practitioners.  It is merely a method that assists in the gathering of pragmatic therapeutic information.

Surely this will be obvious to many readers—we cannot accurately use muscle testing to evaluate the effectiveness of manual muscle testing.   For example, the evaluator tests a muscle and has the subject say, “Muscle testing is valid.”  Or “Muscle testing is invalid.”  If the indicator muscle tests strong in response to the first statement and weak in response to the latter, this cannot serve as proof that muscle testing is valid.  To draw conclusions on the basis of such an “experiment” is a confusion of logical levels.  The same holds true for using muscle testing to determine if the information from muscle testing comes from heaven above.  I emphasize this fallacy, since I have observed muscle testing used incorrectly in this way.


When We’re Stumped

I frequently use manual muscle testing when we are stumped.  In this respect, it can be used when an algorithm does not work or when we need to discern the origins of a problem.  We can also use muscle testing to diagnose a toxin that causes an emotional reaction or that reverses a therapeutic result. However, even in this area abuses can arise.  For example, if a substance tests as toxic to a client, does this invariably mean that the substance is the cause of the problem or the reason for the resurrection of a problem?  Some so-called toxic substances might have little or nothing to do with the psychological problem in question.  Also in some cases the concept of energy toxins can become a garbage bin to explain away therapeutic failures, thus interfering with the advancement of our therapeutic models.  Again, manual muscle testing is an indicator that can be usefully applied in conjunction with other information.

Systemic Manual Muscle Testing

While there are conceivably many other aspects involved, briefly I would like to touch on one additional feature of manual muscle testing.  Manual muscle testing has many systemic qualities, as do all interactions.  When the therapist and client interact in this way, some very powerful messages are being delivered.  It seems impossible to separate this interaction from the underlying assumptions that the parties entertain.

If we assume that manual muscle testing accesses THE TRUTH, what message is being conveyed? Does this serve to enhance or to undermine the client?  In some respects we, as therapists, prefer to undermine, if that means getting beneath the conscious mind or accessing the under mind.  However, we do not want to demoralize or to lead the client’s consciousness astray in the process, and inappropriate use of manual muscle testing can influence in this way.  If we assume, on the other hand, that the test has the same validity and reliability constraints of all other tests, then our interaction and our utilization of the results are quite different.  I prefer the latter approach, since it is more in line with what we know about tests, quality therapeutic interaction, and “the truth.”  And we should not want to interfere with the client’s sense of self-efficacy, which is perhaps the most powerful therapeutic force in the service of the client.


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