Patricia* came in with neck and back pain she had been dealing with ever since a whiplash nine months before from a car accident. Thirty minutes later, she was walking around my office shaking her head in amazement, saying she has never had a therapy session where she experienced this amount of relief in such a short time. (*Client’s name has been changed.)
A massage therapist herself, Patricia had already been to numerous doctors and manual therapists for relief.
“My pain was a nine; now it’s a zero,” she said.
I smiled and said, “Thank goodness you brought the expert needed — your body! By using muscle testing, your body directed me to exactly where your muscles were not working.”
Muscle testing in specialized/energy kinesiology is a biofeedback method providing direct communication with the body. No matter the condition a client walks in with, a massage therapist trained in some form of specialized or energy kinesiology can often assist in restoring muscle function, reducing pain and improving posture. This form of kinesiology muscle testing is distinct from orthopedic strength testing.
Muscle testing is a great adjunct skill for massage therapists because it can reveal the underlying cause of chronic muscle tightness, pain and restrictions. It can also indicate which interventions will strengthen and re-balance the system and prioritize treatment options, taking the guesswork out of choosing which techniques to use.
As it opens up new potential treatment options for your clients, muscle testing can save wear and tear on the therapist’s body. Heavy pressure by the practitioner can be reduced by instead, for example, by using neurological feedback and touch reflexes to reset the system.
Opposing Muscle Theory
An important concept in using muscle testing for massage is recognizing that muscle tightness is often a compensatory problem; the result of opposing muscle weakness. In the 1960s, George Goodheart, D.C., a Michigan chiropractor, broadened Kendall and Kendall’s muscle testing (used for rehabilitation assessment) into the foundation of his system, Applied Kinesiology.
Goodheart tested muscles and noticed the problem with overly tight muscles was often due to opposing muscles being underfacilitated, or inhibited. He postulated that by enhancing the opposing “weak” muscle’s function the problematic “tight” muscle would resolve itself. He coined the term the opposing muscle theory to explain this relationship between muscles.
He demonstrated there are many parallel systems in the body that support muscular function. If any of those systems are compromised, they can create muscle dysfunction, which is indicated by the muscle test. In addition to the spindle cells, Golgi tendon apparatus and origin/insertion, he researched the relationship between specific muscles, acupuncture meridians and organs.
Goodheart also observed that nutrition and environmental factors could change the response of a muscle, as could mental and emotional states. He showed how to determine both under- and overfacilitated muscles and specific ways to identify which system was blocked and affecting muscle function, by using manual muscle testing.
Through trial and error, he determined how to immediately restore function to “weak” muscles by stimulating specific manual reflexes such as Bennett’s Neuro Vascular Reflexes, Chapman’s Neuro-lymphatic reflexes, and specific acupuncture points. This process spontaneously improved posture and resulted in his chiropractic adjustments holding longer.
For massage therapists, learning how to reactivate the weak muscles and incorporate other kinesiology interventions will take your work to another level. Muscle testing will allow you to assess and respond to the cause, not just the symptoms, of chronic pain and muscle tightness.
The Art & Science of Muscle Testing
With muscle testing, we can access information normally unavailable to the conscious mind. Thousands of case studies have been reported using muscle monitoring to find unexpected structural glitches, energy imbalances, nutrition deficiencies, or mental or emotional states.
These insights can allow a massage therapist to provide a more holistic approach assisting clients with a broader spectrum of healing interventions. This in turn can lead to longer-lasting and more effective structural interventions. Want to blend in an essential oil that is the perfect support for a client? Muscle testing can reveal the best choice. Similarly, it can be integrated with many other modalities.
Muscle testing is an art and science. The science of muscle testing includes properly positioning the body at the start of the test, knowing the range of motion, making sure the system is neurologically aligned to give accurate, reliable feedback, understanding what each response is communicating, knowing how to gather detailed information about what is causing the system to go out of balance and determining what will return it to homeostasis.
The art of muscle testing begins by realizing we are testing the integrity of various feedback mechanisms from the body, not the physical strength of individual muscles.
How you test is more important then how hard you test. Using slow, smooth, consistent pressure — up to 2 pounds of pressure for no more than two to three seconds — works best. Each person may respond differently, requiring an ability to sense and adjust one’s pressure, recognize compensations such as recruiting other muscles or masking muscle inhibition, and developing a sensitivity so you can notice and interpret different responses from different clients.
Like any other art or skill, muscle testing takes practice and coaching to develop competency and then mastery.
The art also involves communicating to the client how muscle testing works and their role in the process. Being able to let your client know that muscle testing is not a win/lose competition but a method of assessing information is important to engender cooperation in the process.
We often say to clients, “If you feel the muscle giving, its OK to let it go,” so that it’s easy to see the results. Otherwise, the client may not understand we are looking for differences in muscle response, not just how strong the muscle is. Maintaining a neutral unbiased attitude by the tester and client is also important for obtaining reliable feedback.
Although the term muscle testing is a legacy from Goodheart, the process is actually a way to monitor various feedback loops from the nervous system. Therefore, some practitioners prefer using the terms muscle monitoring or energy testing instead of muscle testing.
It is also important to understand the limits of what muscle testing can tell us. Goodheart used to say, “The body knows everything about the body.” However, no one has ever won the lottery using muscle testing. It is not a Ouija board, nor can it be used reliably as a lie detector.
Muscle Testing in Massage
Goodheart had developed Applied Kinesiology exclusively for chiropractors, physicians and osteopaths. In 1973, John Thie, D.C., the first chairman of Goodheart’s International College of Applied Kinesiology, took elements from Applied Kinesiology that he could safely teach other health professionals and his clients, and created a system called Touch For Health Kinesiology.
Thie’s original goal was to make safe, quick and effective aspects of this work available to everyone for enhanced self-care. To ensure Touch for Health Kinesiology was simple enough for people to use even in their families, he developed a systematic, step-by-step process for balancing the body’s muscles and meridians.
In Touch For Health Kinesiology, students learn, among other skills, how to balance the 42 prime movers of the body. According to Thie, these are the primary muscles for maintaining proper posture. When balanced, they can resolve long-standing compensations in the body.
In Touch For Health Kinesiology and Applied Kinesiology, every muscle is understood to have a primary relationship with a single meridian. The Touch For Health Kinesiology basic balancing protocol comprises testing a minimum of one muscle per meridian as an indicator of meridian function. It then integrates all the different correction reflexes in a priority feedback procedure. Muscle testing guides the process.
In essence, while one is seemingly balancing a series of muscles to improve postural balance, the process results in balancing the entire body’s meridian system. Benefits can include stress-and-pain reduction, increased range of motion, more energy, enhanced immune function and increased overall health and well-being.
Once Thie began teaching muscle testing to a wider circle of students, some experimented with expanding the possible applications, creating a new field of specialized or energy kinesiology.
Systems like BrainGym, Emotional Freedom Technique, Professional Kinesiology, Eden Energy Medicine, Thought Field Therapy,
Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Techniques, Health Kinesiology, The Emotion Code, Nutrition Response Testing, Bio-Kinesiology, Applied Physiology, Muscle Activation Technique and many others have grown directly out of Applied Kinesiology and Touch For Health Kinesiology.
The field of energy psychology has embraced muscle testing as an important skill set for practitioners to use, as have an ever-growing number of individual practitioners in other fields.
To learn muscle testing well, most beginners find getting specific instruction and hands-on coaching from a certified teacher is crucial for mastering this new art. Muscle testing involves subtleties in use and communication. Different systems have varying protocols to ensure reliability of feedback.
Touch For Health Kinesiology is a great place to begin learning muscle testing. Originally developed for laypeople, it is a foundational system focused on mastering the art of muscle testing for the uninitiated. It has developed a professional certification for those wanting to go deeper. There is a network of certified teachers across the country.
Enhance Your Practice
If you are a massage therapist interested in broadening your horizons by exploring complementary modalities to enhance your practice and are open to integrating the wisdom of the time-proven acupuncture meridian system principles, with the insights of the body and Western discoveries of muscle reflex systems, the field of specialized/energy kinesiology and muscle testing could be a perfect fit for enhancing your practice.
About the Author:
Larry Green has been a kinesiology practitioner and certified instructor for more than 20 years. He is the creator of the classes Energy Medicine for Pets, Kinesiology for Horses and the Miracle Workers Training. He and his wife, Arlene, co-direct the U.S. Kinesiology Training Institute in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.