Applied Kinesiology

December 18, 2016

Categories: Skepticism , Tags: Pseudoscience, Kinesiology

The Society for Science Based Healthcare were asked about Applied Kinesiology this week and I helped to write this response to questions:

Is there any scientific-based evidence to suggest applied kinesiology works?

Applied kinesiology uses a discredited diagnostic technique called muscle testing. Applied Kinesiology fails the two most important tests for healthcare. Firstly, there is no plausible mechanism by which the therapy would be able to diagnose or treat allergies or medical conditions. Ideas of an energy running through the body that is connected to our health are unproven, and given what we know of physics and biology are also implausible.

Secondly, scientific tests have failed to validate applied kinesiology for diagnosis or treatment.

Have there been any scientific studies around applied kinesiology?

There have been some, but not many, scientific studies on muscle testing, mainly for its use in allergy diagnosis. The most rigorous tests tend to show that applied kinesiology does not work. For example, this double blind study found Applied Kinesiology to be no better than random chance at diagnosing tolerance levels: (opens new window)

We briefly discussed the placebo effect of applied kinesiology. Can you explain more about this?

The placebo effect can make people believe that something is helping them when it's not actually having a positive effect. For applied kinesiology, the muscle testing that it employs is a technique that is well-known for often fooling people. Common tests include balancing on one leg while someone tries to unbalance you, and holding two fingers together while someone tries to pull them apart. When these kinds of muscle memory tests are put to a blind test, they consistently fail.

For example, if an applied kinesiology practitioner were to test for gluten allergy, they would test a patient's strength, and then have the patient hold a vial containing wheat and test again. When this is done on someone with a supposed allergy, the practitioner would find that the patient is less strong when holding the vial of wheat. However, if the practitioner is asked to run the test 10 times, and each time neither they nor the patient knows whether the vial contains wheat or a placebo, it has been consistently shown that there is no clear pattern linking the patient's strength with whether they are holding the wheat or placebo.

What is the recommendation of SBH to those looking to use applied kinesiology?

Given that applied kinesiology has no plausible mechanism to explain why it would work, and also has no good quality scientific evidence showing that it does work, we recommend that people avoid employing the services of any practitioner offering applied kinesiology.

We recommend that people should talk to their GP before using any alternative therapy, and this includes applied kinesiology. GPs are well placed to refer their patients to other health professionals who are qualified, and who use therapies that are proven to have an effect.

Further reading: (opens new window) > (opens new window) > (opens new window)

There was also some confusion about Kinesiology vs Applied Kinesiology, and I tried to explain the difference between the two:

Kinesiology is a legitimate scientific discipline which studies movement of the human body, and is very different to Applied Kinesiology - which is an unproven diagnostic therapy which uses muscle testing (and sometimes talks about energy flows).

As the Wikipedia article on Kinesiology states:

Kinesiology is a scientific study of human or non-human body movement... Kinesiology as described above should not be confused with applied kinesiology, a controversial medical diagnostic method. (opens new window)

The Wikipedia page for Applied Kinesiology describes the therapy that you are writing about:

Applied kinesiology (AK) is a technique in alternative medicine claimed to be able to diagnose illness or choose treatment by testing muscles for strength and weakness.

The Wikipedia page goes on to say:

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology stated there is "no evidence of diagnostic validity" of applied kinesiology. Another study has shown that, as an evaluative method, AK "is no more useful than random guessing", and the American Cancer Society has said that "scientific evidence does not support the claim that applied kinesiology can diagnose or treat cancer or other illness" (opens new window)

Given what you mentioned on the phone and in your questions, my assumption is that your article is on the topic of Applied Kinesiology - straightforward Kinesiology does not deal with muscle testing as a diagnostic tool, and does not use the concept of "energy flow" to treat people. Therefore it would be great if my references to "Applied Kinesiology" could be left intact, as I think it is important to make it clear that I am not talking about the legitimate topic of Kinesiology. For your article I would recommend reading those Wikipedia pages, as they have some great information about both topics, and the ways in which they are different to each other will become obvious.