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A note on Muscle Testing: Who, What, Where and Why

By May 1, 2015July 14th, 2020Exercise

Muscle testing is a procedure performed by health practitioners as part of a physical evaluation. helps assess the body’s muscles and their connections to the brain through the nervous system. Testing is accomplished by applying moderate and precise force against an arm, leg or other body area of a patient who is simultaneously resisting in the opposite direction. This evaluation is particularly important for those with back, knee and hip pain, spinal problems, wrist and elbow dysfunction, headaches, and many other disorders.

Testing muscles is a primary and practical way to determine a condition called muscle imbalance, where two or more muscles are not properly working together. The combination of a ‘tight,’ over-active muscle and one that is ‘loose’ or less active is a simple but accurate definition of muscle imbalance. Because it is a common cause of injury, pain, and disability, the use of muscle testing can be as important as blood and urine evaluations, X-rays, physical examinations, and other assessments.

While associated with joint, ligament, tendon, and bone problems, muscle imbalance can significantly impair physical movement, such as walking, reduce sports performance, and even lower the overall quality of life.

The Who

Muscle testing is used by a wide variety of practitioners, including those in medicine, osteopathy, chiropractic, physical therapy, and numerous others. For example, neurologists may perform it to help rule out serious conditions; physical therapists to rate a patient’s level of disability; athletic trainers to assess a particular injury; and chiropractors to help determine areas of treatment. Overall, practitioners who employ biofeedback, manipulation, diet and nutrition, exercise, sports, coaching, and other approaches, often utilize muscle testing.

In the 1940s, physical therapists Florence and Henry Kendall developed a comprehensive system of manually testing muscles to evaluate disabilities. Their first textbook on the subject was published later that decade, and would inspire the work of two doctors, in uniquely different ways, and trigger a muscle testing revolution that continues today.

In the early 1960s, Vladimir Janda (1923-2002), a Czechoslovakian medical doctor, developed a system of care using muscle testing, teaching practitioners in many disciplines including physical therapists, athletic trainers and chiropractors. Janda’s primary approach included various therapies directed at the ‘tight’ muscle, although sometimes he addressed the ‘loose’ one to correct muscle imbalances.

Unknowingly, and about the same time, George Goodheart (1918-2008), an American chiropractic physician, discovered a way to use muscle testing to evaluate the nervous system. In this approach, now used by chiropractors, medical doctors, osteopaths, and others, treatment incorporates a variety of complementary remedies including acupuncture, manipulation, and nutrition. Goodheart primarily directed therapy at the ‘loose’ muscle (sometimes referred to as ‘weak’), and on occasion, applied treatment to the ‘tight’ one to correct muscle imbalance.

The What

A term commonly associated with muscle testing is kinesiology, referring to the study of human movement. It is a topic taught in the coursework of many colleges and universities, and postdoctoral programs. Through an understanding of kinesiology, practitioners can better use muscle testing to evaluate posture, gait, and all other movements. Many types of assessment and treatment approaches that incorporate muscle testing and use the name kinesiology have evolved over the last fifty years. Most originated from the work of Goodheart.

The Where

Tens of thousands of health practitioners around the world, in hospitals, clinics, private practice, on sports teams, and elsewhere, employ some form of muscle testing in their work. In addition, hundreds of studies have been published in scientific journals on this topic.

The Why

As an important part of a comprehensive physical evaluation, muscle testing can help discover the cause of a particular injury or disability. It can also quickly assist in measuring the effectiveness of specific treatments. While its use varies with individual practitioners, there is one common feature among all using it: muscle testing is a form of biofeedback.

We usually think of biofeedback as a type of electronic monitoring, such as EMG for muscles or EEG for the brain, which involves the use of electrical devices. While these approaches often incorporate muscle testing, most practitioners perform it as a hands-on evaluation without equipment.

While millions of people have experienced muscle testing, many more have not. Finding a health practitioner who incorporates this form of evaluation is as easy as inquiring about whether testing muscles is part of his or her practice.