I saw a post on Facebook from Dallas & Melissa Hartwig of Whole9life.com with this comment:
‘I’m sitting next to a table where one woman is “testing” what the other woman ‘needs’ by having her hold various bottles of god-knows-what and testing her finger strength to determine which supplement(s) her body ‘needs’. It’s so bizarre that I feel like I’ve been huffing paint. Or wish that I was.’
The responses from others were quick and opinionated, ranging from (paraphrased) ‘that’s silly / stupid’ to ‘it worked for me’. Which pretty well reflects the range of opinions you hear about muscle testing.
But what is muscle testing? A fair share of “alternative” providers make use of muscle testing. Is it something you should have done, or should you run from “quacks” who use muscle testing?
What is muscle testing?
Muscle testing is a procedure where a person contracts (or uses) a muscle and the tester presses against that muscle testing it for strength. A stimulus can then be applied and the tester can note whether that muscle has gotten stronger, weaker or stayed the same. For example, if you make and hold a bicep curl and then a person takes your hand and tries to uncurl your arm, they would be testing the strength of your bicep.
Two types of muscle testing and what they’re used for:
Type I – used by physical therapists, athletic coaches, movement specialists, etc. They will use muscle testing to detect weak or inhibited muscles that may be causing physical problems – pain, weakness, balance problems, etc. For example you have pain in your knee when you squat. Someone trained in muscle testing, most often called Applied Kinesiology in this case, could use muscle testing to isolate and test the various muscles of your upper leg and may find that one or several muscles are not contracting properly causing your leg to go out of alignment when you squat leading to pain. They may prescribe special exercises to strengthen and get those muscles working properly which would then eliminate the pain.
Type II – used by “alternative” practitioners, most often used by lay practitioners such as nutritionists, herbalists, etc though some doctors and other professionals including ND’s use muscle testing as well. This is entirely different from Applied Kinesiology above, and I will be referring to this type of muscle testing as muscle testing for the rest of this article.
There are two basic ideas behind the theory of muscle testing, and if you don’t buy them, then muscle testing is not a good fit for you.
So, would supplement X, or herb Y, or drug Z, or food A or B be helpful or harmful for you? The idea with muscle testing is, let’s ask your non-conscious mind. How can we do that, since it can’t speak to us (except possibly in dreams or deep hypnotic states)? By placing the substance on, near, or in the body and testing the change in muscle strength.
How is it done?
There are lots of variations on this basic process, but most muscle testing follows this general procedure. Some systems have the practitioner asking the person questions with the theory that the non-conscious mind can also hear and can respond through the strength/weakness of the muscle (kind of like 1 blink for yes, 2 blinks for no kind of thing). Others combine muscle testing with the meridian theory of acupuncture and have practitioners pressing on various acupressure points and then testing for changes in muscle strength.
Some practitioners use muscle testing to help them select appropriate therapies for a person, others use muscle testing to ‘diagnose’ what is going on for that person.
For example, you come in complaining about diarrhea. A muscle tester may run you through a series of questions – is it your stomach? is it your small intestine? is it your gallbladder, etc. Or they may select various acupressure points related to those organs and while pressing them run through the various muscle tests. They may then ‘diagnose’ that you have parasites. They may then take out their anti-parasite supplements and run through them with you, deciding that your body is signaling that it wants X, Y, and Z. They may then select those supplements and muscle test to find dosage (do you want 1 capsule, 2 capsules, 3 capsules, once a day, twice a day, etc.). Voila! In a matter of minutes, by tapping into your non-conscious mind for the answers the practitioner has diagnosed you and selected the appropriate treatment for you.
Note: This is NOT how all practitioners use muscle testing, but I have seen this style of practice quite a few times.
My experience with muscle testing
My experience with muscle testing is that it is often done badly and seems little more than theatrics or an excuse to sell a lot of supplements. I’ve seen a lot of patients come in on boatloads of supplements, in odd combinations and doses, with no rationale other than “I was muscle tested and this was the protocol my body wanted.”
On the other hand, I know some very skilled and experienced practitioners who use muscle testing and report extremely good results with it. I have also seen a handful of patients, find that muscle testing seems to have revealed issues that have stumped other tests and doctors, and have guided them to getting the correct treatments.
So with these conflicting experiences, I am, and I have attempted in this article to be, neutral towards muscle testing. I personally do not use muscle testing. As much as I wish such a simple technique were true – being able to quickly, easily, and cheaply test and figure out what’s going on for a person would be fantastic – I see little evidence to suggest that it is. Muscle testing seems far too subjective – is the practitioner pushing down with exactly the same amount of force each time, or are they consciously or unconsciously pushing down harder or softer to generate certain results?
Does it ‘really’ work? I don’t know. I’m skeptical, but open minded. To the best of my knowledge there are no well-controlled scientific studies on this form of muscle testing, so it all comes down to clinical experience – is it helping people get better? And it seems that at least for some skilled and conscientious practitioners that they are getting good results for people. Could this just be placebo? Sure, and at the end of the day, as I’ve said before, I’m okay with that.
How I believe muscle testing should be used?
No form of testing should be used by itself. The conventional medical community is guilty of this too by their over reliance on blood tests and scans to the extent that some MD’s barely talk to their patients.
Good diagnosis and treatment is based on multiple lines of evidence.
So let’s take the situation earlier. You come in complaining of diarrhea. You and the practitioner talk and discuss the situation. You tell them it started on a trip to Mexico. You don’t think you drank or ate anything contaminated but you’re not sure. So, based on what you’ve told them they’re suspicious of parasites or food poisoning but can’t be sure. This is where muscle testing could be used. Let’s say the muscle testing came back suggesting you have parasites. A diagnosis has NOT been made at this point, and I would be hesitant to treat just based on a positive muscle test. I would then like to follow this up with a stool test to confirm whether it shows the presence of parasites or not. Based on the totality of evidence, you and the practitioner would decide how to treat you.
So in my mind, muscle testing could be another useful information gathering tool, but like any tool it is far from always right, and it can have significant user error and bias and so needs to be done by a skilled practitioner. We don’t rely solely on what you say, we don’t rely solely on the physical exam, we don’t rely solely on the lab tests, and we don’t rely solely on muscle testing either. But it can be all put together to figure out what is going on.
The bottom line
Be skeptical and stay open minded.
If you say, ‘I don’t know how this could work’ or ‘I’m suspicious this could work’ that’s being skeptical, which I think is a smart move. When you say, ‘this can’t work’ or ‘this is stupid’ then you’ve crossed the line from skepticism to belief. How do you KNOW this can’t work? Have you run trials on it and found that it didn’t work, or are you just saying, ‘based on my belief system I don’t see how this could work. Therefore I’m going to say that it can’t work.’
One response to Dallas and Melissa’s thread was ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ — Arthur C. Clarke. To which Dallas and Melissa responded, ‘That’s a great quote, and one that I’ve read before. Though I have to say that there still IS a difference between ‘magic’ and ‘foolishness’. It’s just hard to tell which is which sometimes.’
I hope this article helped shed some light on muscle testing for you.
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