(Investigator 155, 2014 March)

The alternative form of therapy known as Applied Kinesiology (AK) is often confused with Kinesiology, (also known as Human Kinetics).

Kinesiology is a legitimate form of therapy and assessment using principles that include biomechanics, physiology and anatomy, to study the movement and performance of the human body, and was originally developed to enable accurate assessments to be made of the degree of physical incapacity of persons injured in accidents. Later it came to be used in testing polio patients and in such areas as sport, fitness training, and the rehabilitation of persons injured in traffic and occupational accidents. By contrast, AK is an alternative form of therapy based upon nonsensical, pseudo-scientific concepts.

Yet, despite the differences between them, AK has effectively purloined the Kinesiology name; as Dickson (1990) indicated, through misuse the terms "Kinesiology" and "Applied Kinesiology" have become virtually one and the same in the mind of the general public, so that when people speak about Kinesiology they are generally referring to AK.

AK had its origins in 1964 with Chiropractor George Goodheart, who, although he claimed it was based on the Kinesiological muscle testing principles of developed by practitioners such as Kendall, Kendall and Boynton (1954), in actual fact it has little real similarity to Kinesiology.

On the contrary, AK is based upon pseudo-science and metaphysics, predominantly from ideas taken from Chiropractic, Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Furthermore, it appears that much of the inspiration for AK was derived metaphysically; rather than basing his theories upon years of scientific research, as Pollack and Kravitz (1985) indicated, Goodheart evolved much of the fundamental concepts of AK directly from spontaneous psychic revelations that he experienced. As a result AK is essentially an assortment of alternative health theories including the chiropractic concept of Innate Intelligence, and various other vitalistic concepts.

According to Frost (2002), Goodheart discovered that, "…the relative test strength of a muscle could reflect the influence on the condition of one or more of five main systems" (p. 10).

This "discovery" was similar to a TCM concept, the belief that human health is governed by the Law of the Five Elements. This metaphysical concept "connects" the five TCM elements, Fire, Water, Earth, Metal and Wood, with five body systems, which Goodheart defined as the nervous, lymphatic, vascular, cerebrospinal and meridian. These systems, it is claimed, are, "…so intricately interwoven, each with the other, that it is impossible to separate them." (Valentine, 1987, p. 16).  

A primary vitalistic concept of TCM that Goodheart introduced into AK was the concept of Chi - a mysterious form of life-energy. In vitalistic terms Chi is essentially the energy or life-principle that animates the human body. It is claimed to flow through invisible and undetectable channels, (meridians) within the body, and, adhering to common vitalistic beliefs, AK therapists claim that, to ensure good health, this energy must always be maintained in a balanced condition. As Hall, Lewith, Brien, and Little (2008) noted, one of the primary objectives of AK is to constantly evaluate the body's energetic balance (Chi), and where necessary, to select appropriate healing modalities to readjust and restore balance to the internal flow of this "energy".

Muscle-strength testing procedures feature prominently as a means of diagnosis in AK, indeed Frost (2002) describes them as, "…the central tool of AK." (p. 63). As such, AK is "primarily a diagnostic technique" (p. 2) that uses these various manual muscle-strength tests, along with standard examination procedures, to determine particular health problems.

An underlying principle of AK is that there exists a natural relationship between the muscles and the bodily organs; as Ankerberg and Weldon (1991) indicated, each of the large muscles is physically, "… and magically related to a specific body organ, and these in turn are related to a specific acupuncture meridian" (p. 161).  AK asserts that any abnormality, or malfunction, in any of the major organs produces corresponding weakness in the major muscles that can be detected by, "…using an indicator muscle…to evaluate the structural, mental/emotional and biochemical functions of the human organism." (Frost, 2002, p. 2).

These tests are applied on some thirty-two muscles and practitioners claim they can detect physical feedback, a form of "body language", from the muscles, which enables them to determine the specific problems and which of the various organs is unhealthy. Not only that, but they also claim that the messages obtained via the muscles are always correct!

While muscle-strength testing is a useful technique in Kinesiology and physiotherapy, AK takes the concept out of the practical realm and into one of fantasy. They claim, for instance, that the muscles are so incredibly sensitive to the presence of any substances that can cause negative responses that the muscle-strength testing can enable practitioners to determine the specific substances that are antagonistic to the particular individual. These not only include certain chemicals, but sensitivities to a vast range of modern-day products, including fluorescent lighting, insecticides, artificial food chemicals, colouring and preservatives, even sugar, which many AK practitioners classify as a "negative food substance".

Hyman (1999) was present at a demonstration where AK techniques were used to "demonstrate" the body's specific responses to either glucose, which they classified as "bad" sugar, and fructose, a "good" sugar. Although the demonstration was successful when the subjects were aware which substance they were receiving, when a double-blind situation was applied the results clearly indicated there was no relationship whatsoever between the "good" or "bad" sugar and the responses of the subjects.

The author has witnessed similar tests claimed to prove the dangers of sugary soft-drinks. Subjects were requested to hold their arm rigidly in a horizontal position and when the demonstrator "attempted" to push the arm down they failed. After taking a mouthful of the soft-drink the test was repeated and the demonstrator was easily able to push the arm down. Although they insisted this was "evidence" that sugar produced muscular weakness, in fact it was simply a trick. On the first occasion the demonstrator applied only a small amount of force but, on the second occasion, they applied a much greater force.

Many of the claims made regarding the ability of AK techniques to test for allergies are quite absurd. For instance Frost (2002) claims that holding a bottle containing antagonistic substances at homeopathic concentrations, (12C) is sufficient to trigger a response in hypertonic muscles (p. 61); yet, in fact, a substance at that homeopathic level would be unlikely to contain even a single molecule of the original substance.

Furthermore, as Staehle, Koch and Pioch (2005) noted, when the claims that AK could detect allergenic dental materials were tested using valid test procedures, the results were no better than random guessing; studies by other researchers such as Teuber and Porch-Curren (2003) revealed similar results. The conclusion reached by such testing was that there is no evidence whatsoever to support the use of AK as a means of detecting allergenic substances.

Because of their alleged metaphysical basis it is not possible to test many of the AK concepts, however the muscle-strength tests is one area that can be scientifically tested. In this respect muscle-strength testing for chiropractic research by Haas, Peterson, Hoyer and Ross (1994) indicated that muscle response appeared to be an entirely random event, and, as such, appeared to be of questionable value for spinal screening and post-adjustive evaluation.

Other research by Lüdtke, Kunz, Seeber and Ring (2001), specifically designed to assess the reliability and validity of AK muscle testing, concluded that the AK muscle testing procedure was useless as a diagnostic procedure and indeed was no better than random guessing. Hall et al. (2008) also concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the claims of AK concerning the validity of muscle responses; essentially, they are completely unreliable as a means of diagnosis.

The question as to why AK appears to actually operate on some people has been examined by various authors and the most common explanation is that it is a form of suggestion. Jarvis (2000) compares it to the psychophysiologic responses that occur when suggestion is used with such techniques as clinical hypnosis; indeed there appears to be some degree of validity in such theories.

Hyman (1999) attributed much of this differential sensitivity, the muscle weakness/tension which is used as a diagnostic tool in AK, to a simple ideomotor response, the unconscious triggering of specific reflex actions, what Carroll (2003), described as, "…the influence of suggestion on involuntary and unconscious motor behaviour." (p. 172). As Erickson (1961) indicated, ideomotor responses are commonly used in hypnotic techniques.

A common demonstration of how easily subjects can be influenced by suggestion is the Chevreul's Pendulum where, even though a subject attempts to hold a pendulum perfectly still, when someone suggests the pendulum will begin to swing from side-to-side, backwards and forwards, or even in a circle, despite the subject's best efforts they are generally unable to prevent it swinging in the direction suggested.

AK developed a great deal of popularity with the alternative therapy community, possibly due to the fact that Goodheart developed a less technical approach for alternative therapists, many of whom were untrained amateurs, and his insistence that AK could be used successfully with almost all forms of alternative therapy, (Ankerberg and Weldon, 1991, 158-159). This attitude has changed somewhat, and the latest status statement by the Executive Board of the International College of Applied Kinesiology, (1992) stresses that it, "…be used in conjunction with other standard diagnostic methods" and that the practice of AK be limited to licensed  health care professionals trained in proper clinical diagnosis.

Over time AK has spawned a large number of variations, each with their own particular form of "energy imbalance" testing techniques and treatments; these include: -
•    Behavioural Kinesiology: Based on the work of Diamond (1979), it is designed to test for the effects of electro-magnetic pollution and offers a variety of devices to protect against EMF radiation;

•    Brain Gym: A form of educational kinesiology, that promotes using posture and movement to facilitate and improve learning;

•    Contact Reflex Analysis (CRA): It claims there are seventy-five reflex points on the body and that thousands of disorders can be diagnosed simply by the application of the practitioner's finger or hand to one of these;

•    Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT): Also known as Energy Psychology claims that negative emotions are due to disturbances in the body's energy field. It claims to offer fast and effective relief from a wide range of emotional problems such as trauma, anxiety, phobias, anger, sadness, grief, guilt, etc.;

•    Health Kinesiology (HK): Claims to use muscle testing to identify multiple deficiencies in the energy flow and to indicate in what order they need to be dealt with. It also uses a technique known as the Energy Tap, in which substances causing allergies are placed over a specific acupuncture point on the belly and then eight pairs of specific acupuncture points are tapped;

•    Jaffe-Mellor Technique (JMT): Patients are "diagnosed" while holding a glass container of a substance that causes a physical reaction, when weaknesses are detected the practitioner uses  Acupuncture and Acupressure to balance the internal flow of energy;

•    Neural Organization Technique (NOT):  This process claims that blocked neural pathways are the basis of such disorders as cerebral palsy, schizophrenia, Down's syndrome, colour-blindness, bedwetting, nightmares, and various other problems, (Barrett).

Overall there is no evidence to support any of the claims made by practitioners of AK; it is simply a concoction of arcane vitalistic teachings with no real scientific basis; as Ankerberg and Weldon (1991) commented, "…applied kinesiology is not a practice that should be trusted or utilized. Those who claim it is a valuable adjunct to health concerns are simply wrong." (p. 167)


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