Applied Kinesiology Anyone?

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Applied Kinesiology (AK) is practised throughout the world, mainly by chiropractors, and involves diagnosing your ills by finding and fixing imbalances in your muscles. They don’t all do it, but in Australia it’s around 60%, NZ 72% and the US 43%.

And it’s not as if chiropractors need any more bad press. They already have a collective blood nose over the embarrassing back-down in the Simon Singh libel case, but they continue to go under the radar. Chiropractic and associated therapies need more scrutiny, given the mega-dollars pumped into it by the public, not to mention the public funding through medicare which gives it some legitimacy in some people’s minds.

In my own case, I tried chiropractic many years ago, for various sporting ailments. The practitioner to whom I went was big into AK. Indeed, I tried it for quite a few years on and off. Looking back on it now, I realise what a waste of time and money it was, although at least I learned something about human nature. I do realise that experiences with chiropractic vary – some people only get back manipulation, and find relief. Other people are treated for all sorts of illnesses and diseases, and it is this latter category that I find least plausible.

When I look back, I was clearly taken in by the AK act. I say ‘act’ because it is purely a performance piece, which I can now do myself. Basically it takes the form of 1. test strength of arm, and find it is weak. 2. apply pressure to special point. 3. re-test arm and find it is strong.  Here’s a video, by Richard Saunders of the Australian Skeptics, describing how to do this for yourself, and some of the psychology behind it. In this case,  the reason for the improved muscle balance and strength is some arbitrary device, but it could be manipulation of key points on the body, as it done with AK:

This scam is used for all sorts of things. I spent hours lying on a bed having very painful pressure applied to various points. Interestingly, I needed to keep coming back for the treatment to ‘take’. I now realise it was me that was taken. Here’s a definition of the therapy from one of the proponents, International College of AK (link intentionally omitted) :

Applied Kinesiology (AK) is a system that evaluates structural, chemical and mental aspects of health using manual muscle testing with other standard methods of diagnosis.

The doctor using AK finds a muscle that is unbalanced and then attempts to determine why that muscle is not functioning properly.  The doctor works out the treatment that will best balance the patient’s muscles.

Treatments may involve specific joint manipulation or mobilization, various myofascial therapies, cranial techniques, meridian and acupuncture skills, clinical nutrition, dietary management, counselling skills, evaluating environmental irritants and various reflex procedures.

The second paragraph is a hoot. What the hell is an ‘unbalanced’ muscle anyway? Talk about nebulous gibberish. And the treatments include the usual suspects of alternative medicine: meridians, acupuncture, reflex procedures etc etc.

The question in my mind is: do the practitioners knowingly ‘scam’ the patient? Is that what is taught in the many degree courses around the world? Or is there some sort of broad professional mass-delusion at work? How is it that they can study this stuff, but not personally require some sort of validation of its efficacy? Is it just laziness, or, wishful thinking?

Once again, we find a near total absence of any meaningful research showing any efficacy at all, and there are many references examining the various claims. This one here is very thorough, and provides a good review of the whole spectrum of therapies relating to Applied Kinesiology.

I accept that many people have received helpful treatment from chiropractors, but mostly in addressing various non-specific and subjective ailments such as neck and lower back pain. But I wonder how many people, like me, have had zero results but which tend not to be reported? After all, we are all keen to look like we’ve made smart judgements, and so the money we burned on that unsuccessful treatment, or that power-balance bracelet, or that danoz combined exercise machine and food processor, tend not to come up in polite conversation.

What has your experience been?

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8 thoughts on “Applied Kinesiology Anyone?

    Reservoir Dad said:
    January 17, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    Great website. I have never been to a chiropractor and never will. My sisters and Mother went to Chiropractors for a few years. My older sister was fourteen when she went to see a chiropractor about sore knees – a common ailment in the growing bones of teens. She was told that her ‘womb was out of alignment’ and that it would take exactly ten sessions and a specific amount of money to fix.

    Two of my friends, who are powerlifters, went to the same chiropractor for completely different problems. I tried to tell them that they were wasting their money. After a few treatments one of them said, ‘It seems a bit strange that we have different problems but he is giving us the exact same treatment.’

    When I was younger I was into all types of crazy things – Reiki, crystal therapy etc. As I got older and started thinking about things I couldn’t keep up the facade that what I was doing was real. I had to give it away. So I often think about the same thing that you do – are all chiropractors who use these dodgy treatments complete arseholes who have no trouble conning desperate people out of their money, or do they truly believe that they are helping people? Unfortunately, I can’t imagine people can be so delusional about their own profession. Conclusion? Starts with a …

    PhysioMP said:
    January 17, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    The mind is a powerful thing. There are some fantastic medical studies that show just how powerful it can be. For example making cuts in the skin replicating surgical port holes in the knee while a patient is under anesthetic has the same functional and pain outcomes as undertaking an arthroscopy for knee arthritis. Another example, there is no difference in mobility changes whether you use “dry needling” that penetrates the muscle or just the skin. Basically, if a patient believes that a treatment will work, then it often will.
    I too wonder whether these practitioners actually knowingly scam people. I wonder why everyone gets an x-ray before treatment when they are just exposing them to radiation and there is strong evidence that investigations results (including MRI, xray and CT) have no association with current pain presentation or future predisposition to injury. How can this be considered ethical? Don’t get me started on spinal manipulation in babies and the elderly…

    Physiotherapists are certainly not immune to performing and prescribing treatment with no evidence-base, or worse…evidence that it actually doesn’t work. The use of electrotherapy modalities is common, despite that there is evidence they don’t work in the majority of conditions. If a couple of patients find it helpful, then maybe you can convince yourself that it really works.

    A lot can be learned from AK and chiropractic about marketing.

    The use of the title Doctor by these practitioners is a bug-bear of mine. It could be something about working my butt off to get a PhD. It is disrespectful to use this title.

    Thanks for your stimulating post.

    rationalbrain said:
    January 17, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    Yes, my chiro boasted about manipulating his newly born, was a nut for mega-doses of vitamin C, claimed my illeosecal valve was blocked and I had bursitis of the knee because I wore my watch on the wrong hand. In hindsight, why I didn’t I see the looni-ness from a mile off? In the end, I met a doctor friend at a wedding, described my knee symptoms to him, he suggested 6 weeks rest, and problem was fixed!
    And like you, my wife has a hard-earned PhD, and has the same issue with someone with a Bachelor of Applied Science using the title.

    SCENAR & the Pathology of a Scam « rationalbrain said:
    February 14, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    […] They seem to adopt various practices to complement whatever it is that they learn in university – applied kinesiology, SCENAR, manipulation of energy fields, homeopathy and so on. I wonder whether it’s because the […]

    SCENAR and the Pathology of a Scam « rationalbrain said:
    February 14, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    […] They seem to adopt various practices to complement whatever it is that they learn in university – applied kinesiology, SCENAR, manipulation of energy fields, homeopathy and so on. I wonder whether it’s because the […]

    […] previously had a crack at chiropractic manipulation (here and here for example), and recent research published in the British Medical Journal does nothing to […]

    […] of exposing the nonsense that is chiropractic. I’ve said it all before: for example here and here, but it’s always nice to have one’s beliefs re-affirmed by people who know what they […]

    EMF – OMFG! | rationalbrain said:
    November 14, 2013 at 9:34 am

    […] a fraudulent therapy, to test a fraudulent product? Nice One. See my article on Applied Kinesiology here. Pure theatre and totally bogus. Same goes for Kirlian Photography – which is completely fake […]

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