Applied Kinesiology by Any Other Name…

Applied kinesiology (AK) was briefly mentioned in Scott Gavura’s article on Food Intolerance Tests last week.  Since AK is arguably the second silliest thing in CAM after homeopathy, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to say a little more about it.

A press release on the Wall Street Journal website recently announced that a chiropractor in Illinois was offering “Nutrition Response Testing”

…to help patients optimize overall health…[the test] determines the specific balance of nutrients necessary to optimize metabolic function at the cellular level… the chiropractor then uses this information to make nutritional recommendations for patients…[the test] provides precise feedback that can also help identify the underlying cause for chronic pain and illness.

My first thought was that he must be using one of the quack electrodermal testing devices that I wrote about here and here.

No, nothing so high tech. The chiropractor’s website explains:

The practitioner will do the analysis by contacting your extended arm with one hand, and contact the specific reflex area with other hand. If the tested reflex is stressed, your nervous system will respond by reducing energy to the extended arm (which will weaken and cause it to drop). A drop in the arm indicates underlying stress or dysfunction in that area which can be affecting your health.

This is nothing but AK disguised with a new name. It is nonsense based on magical thinking, suggestibility, and the ideomotor phenomenon.  Steven Novella has explained the role of self-deception in AK.   Practitioners are genuinely not aware that they are eliciting positive results by exerting less force on the arms of patients who in turn are not aware that they are not trying as hard to resist.

My first encounter with a believer in AK was when a local chiropractor gave a  talk about how he diagnosed and treated allergies. He described having patients hold a sealed vial of allergen in one hand while he tested the strength in their other arm. In one case, he suspected that the patient was allergic to work, and since he didn’t have a vial of “Boeing” to test, he just had the patient think about Boeing and that worked just as well. In his introductory remarks, he had let slip that when he was in school he “had never been very good at science.” That was the only thing in his whole talk that I believed.

One of my favorite stories from the history of skepticism is Ray Hyman’s account of how he and Wally Sampson did a double blind test of AK. A group of chiropractors claimed they could distinguish between glucose (“bad” sugar) and fructose (“good” sugar) by putting a drop of dissolved sugar on a patient’s tongue and testing the muscle strength in their arms. They demonstrated that they could reliably detect which was which… as long as they and the patients both knew which was which. Under double-blind conditions, they failed miserably. The head chiropractor then commented to Ray:

You see, that is why we never do double-blind testing anymore. It never works!

I think that’s a hilarious example of how many CAM advocates think: they know they are right, and threfore there must be something wrong with science if it fails to support them.

And no, we skeptics don’t dismiss AK just because it sounds silly. AK has been tested. A typical study showed that the “use of applied kinesiology to evaluate nutrient status is no more useful than random guessing.”  A systematic review of published evidence showed “the few studies evaluating specific AK procedures either refute or cannot support the validity of AK procedures as diagnostic tests.”

We know it doesn’t work. We know why it doesn’t work. We know how practitioners are fooled into thinking it works. Nuff said!

Nevertheless, AK is used by 37.6% of chiropractors in the US, according to the American Chiropractic Association. It is also an integral part of NAET (Nambudripad Allergy Elimination Technique),  a  quack treatment for allergies and chemical sensitivities that was invented by an acupuncturist and is practiced by an estimated 8500 licensed medical providers.

A sampling of statements on the “Nutrition Response Testing” chiropractor’s “Advanced Chiropractic Wellness” website is illuminating:

  • We use the extraordinary properties of the human cells and tissues to bring about healing and health changes…exactly as nature intended. 
  • The body responds to the procedure reliably and consistently. [Demonstrably not true!]
  • Energy flows exist between all parts and organs of the body. These flows can become disrupted for a variety of reasons. This disruption is easily discovered with our testing.
  • The first thing we must determine is whether or not you are a “Nutrition Response Testing Case”.  If someone is NOT a “Nutrition Response Testing Case” then it is unlikely that Nutrition Response testing will ever help you. However, if you ARE a “Nutrition Response Testing Case”, then in our experience, it is our belief that nothing else will help you as much.
  • It is the nervous system’s responsibility to regulate the body’s functions for each and every organ. [What about hormones? What about transplanted organs with no nerve connections?]
  • NRT works upon principals [sic] based in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which state that a person’s energy flows through meridians throughout the body.
  • [Food] intolerances manifest themselves in a myriad of ways throughout the body…. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, back pain, neck pain headaches, migraines, ADHD, depression, allergies, asthma, men’s health issues, women’s health issues, and a very long list of other physical and emotional ailments.
  • We test the patient’s neurological reflexes at the acupuncture points
  • There has been a drastic decline in the quality of food over the past 70 years,
  • 20 years of success correcting spinal misalignments called “subluxations” that pinch nerves. [They explain that regular maintenance adjustments are needed to maintain health.]

They offer an individualized “designed clinical nutrition” program with “real foods” and concentrated whole food supplements that preserve all the active enzymes (it’s hard to see how this could help since enzymes are destroyed by digestion).

“A rose by any other name…” Whether you call this applied kinesiology or nutrition response testing or wallet biopsy, it still stinks.

Posted in: Chiropractic, Energy Medicine, Nutrition

Leave a Comment (23) ↓

23 thoughts on “Applied Kinesiology by Any Other Name…

  1. amhovgaard says:

    English is not my first language, so I need a little help here… is “Nutrition Response Testing Case” a synonym for “gullible”? And what does “in our experience, it is our belief that…” mean?

  2. nobs says:

    HH claims: —–“Nevertheless, AK is used by 37.6% of chiropractors in the US, according to the American Chiropractic Association. It is also an integral part of NAET (Nambudripad Allergy Elimination Technique),

    Your provided clickable links above, are the same—> both are for Wikipedia entries: “Nambudripad Allergy Elimination Technique”. I

    Please provide a link to the ACA survey supporting your claim: ” AK is used by 37.6% of chiropractors in the US, according to the American Chiropractic Association.”

    The ONLY one I could find is Wikipedia—-> which could not be verified through ANY links provided at that site.

    I feel confident you do not rely on heresay, and carefully source your links/sources, and can provide the original source/link supporting your claim?

    Thank-you in advance to correcting your link to a verifiable source,

  3. @nobs,

    If you would have been thoughtful instead of snotty, you would have realized Dr. Hall obviously made a mistake in her link to the survey citation and should have linked here:

    Citation: Christenson MG and others. Job Analysis of Chiropractic: A Project Report, Survey Analysis, and Summary of the Practice of Chiropractic within the United States. Greeley, CO: National Board of Chiropractic Examiners, 2005.

    It was published in the yearly report compiled by the NBCE. Go look it up. Also, when you doubt that perhaps your own profession is so full of quackery, in the future, you can try Google-ing terms like “applied kinesiology 37.6″ and find all the articles citing the NBCE results.

    I think you owe Dr. Hall an apology.

  4. wdygyp says:


    the link cited in the Wikipedia article in support of this claim apparently went dead when “Job Analysis of Chiropractic 2005″ was superseded by “Practice Analysis of Chiropractic 2010″:

    Since what you cannot find on the Internet does not exist, this is a most unfortunate event, but luckily, there is a mirror: (chapter_10.pdf)

  5. nobs says:


    Thank-you for your non-hostile , dogmatic, knee-jerk, reply. I will see where it leads. Thank-you

  6. NYUDDS says:

    I have also been to AK lectures/demonstrations, where the arm pressure was called the “deltoid press.” The allergen or “muscle poison” had a specific substance to combat it and restore “natural health.” In the case of the sternocleidomastoid and other muscles of the neck, it was a B vitamin (I think it was B6.) But there was always an antidote and the vast majority of times, it was a vitamin or some supplement. This is a recent comment from an article in Medscape:
    Vitamins and Mortality: An Interview With Jaakko Mursu: Background to the Interview

    This is an excerpt to whet your appetite:
    “Previously, researchers in the same group showed that the use of dietary supplements in the United States had increased markedly between 1986 and 2004.[2] The long-term health consequences of many of these supplements remained unknown. On the basis of the previous studies, researchers hypothesized that use of dietary supplements is not associated with a reduced rate of total mortality.”

    And this:

    “The researchers acknowledged that their findings did not exclude the possibility of benefits of supplements, such as improved quality of life, but they concluded that the study raised concern about their long-term safety. “Based on existing evidence, we see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements. We recommend that they be used with strong medically based cause, such as symptomatic nutrient deficiency disease,” they concluded.

    As Dr. Hall mentions in her list, some of the connections are fantasy. The AK led to all sorts of conclusions and predictions of impending doom, usually by mentioning “possibilities” related to the “test results.” It was amazing to watch scientifically-trained professionals, MD’s, DDS’s, PhD’s, fawn over the presentation, slick and polished as it may have been, with an eye to incorporating the methods into their practices!

  7. Harriet Hall says:

    Link fixed. Thanks for spotting the error.
    It refers to a book, not an article linkable on the Internet. I don’t have access to the book, but I don’t have any reason to think the writer of the Wikipedia article made the numbers up, especially since the same numbers are cited by others on the Internet, including chiropractors.

  8. joeedh says:

    I once had an AK test for food allergies that perfectly matched a previous blood test. I had no idea which of the little bottles were which, nor had the practitioner seen the blood test. Of course, I have a highly sensitive nervous system (unbelievably so) and it’s possible that some of these things might work on me, but not most other people.

  9. Harriet Hall says:

    “I have a highly sensitive nervous system (unbelievably so) and it’s possible that some of these things might work on me, but not most other people.”

    I once made a wild-assed guess on a math test and got the correct answer. It’s possible that I have a highly sensitive math prognostication system. It’s also possible that it can be attributed to simple chance.

    You didn’t even do any followup to see if AK worked for you consistently. If AK worked on more than a tiny minority of people, it would show up in the statistics on controlled studies. It’s “possible” that you’re one of a kind, but I doubt it.

  10. Quill says:

    AK sounds sort of familiar. It reminds me of the stuff I am told Ayurvedic practitioners do, when they assess a person’s body type or “dosha” and then recommend specific foods to eat and ones to avoid. AK seems to bring “science-y” stuff to the experience like things in sealed vials and medical terminology.

    I am interested to hear about the “Boeing” test, though. Next time I’m at the airport and my flight is cancelled, I shall think incessantly of Boeing and see if either another plane arrives or I find myself magically at my destination.

  11. PJLandis says:

    If that poster is as sensitive as he claims then Dr. Hall’s retort might have elicited an immune reaction.

  12. Lytrigian says:

    Yes, the “Job Analysis of Chiropractic 2005″ is no longer available from the NBCE website, replaced by the “Practice Analysis of Chiropractic 2010″ available here:

    In the appendices they include both the 2003 survey (presumably used to compile the 2005 report) and the 2009 survey (used to compile the 2010 report.) The latter survey and report do not include information on “adjustive procedures”, listed in the 2003 survey as:

    – Activator methods
    – Adjustive instrument
    Applied kinesiology
    – Cox/Flexion-distraction
    – Cranial
    – Extremity adjusting
    – Gonstead
    – Logan basic
    – Meric
    – NIMMO/receptor tonus
    – Palmer upper cervical/HIO
    – Pierce-Stillwagon
    – SOT
    – Thompson
    – Other

    No, I don’t know what most of these are, and no, I don’t care enough to find out.

    This section does NOT appear in the 2009 survey, and there seems to be no corresponding information in the 2010 report. For some reason, the chiropractic community no longer considers it to be of interest how often its various “adjustive” procedures are used. Only “adjunctive” procedures were broken down. These included a range of non-chiropractic treatments such as acupuncture, homeopathy, paraffin baths, etc. The 2009 survey indeed asks how often chiropractic adjustments were performed, but it didn’t break those adjustments down by specific technique.

    So if the 2010 report says nothing about AK, it’s for the simple reason that they didn’t ask about it. The 2005 report, now available only in hardcopy, is the latest information on the subject available.

    Portions of the 2009 survey are alarming. It seems chiropractors consider themselves qualified to perform such things as “focused cardiopulmonary examinations” and “comprehensive orthopedic/neurologic examinations”, perform and interpret EKGs and other medical tests, and “review” MRI and CT scans. At least they seem to be referring to actual physicians several times a month.

    The good news is that 76.8% of chiropractors have at least a Bachelor’s (non-chiropractic) degree, a record high, and only 8.3% appear to have no post-secondary education at all, a record low, so chiropractors are better-educated than ever. The report actually claims that “ninety-three percent of chiropractors hold a post-secondary academic degree. That figure includes Associate’s degrees, but it’s still only true if the “Other” column represents post-secondary academic degrees of some kind. Since the it explicitly lists Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate, I have trouble seeing what else there might be. Trade schools, perhaps? I guess those are technically post-secondary.

  13. tgobbi says:

    Quite a few years I attended a “nutrition” lecture presented by a naprapath (DN or “doctor” of naprapathy). (Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of these guys; few have since there are so few of them with only 2 schools in the world – at last count).

    The “doctor” demonstrated an AK test that proved sugar is toxic. He had me hold out my arm, then put his hand under it and told me to resist while he tried to force it down. My arm didn’t budge. Then he had me put a spoonful of sugar under my tongue and repeated the test. This time I couldn’t resist and my arm went straight down when he pushed. Need I mention that he pushed harder and changed the position of the fulcrum the second time around?

  14. cloudskimmer says:

    “I have a highly sensitive nervous system (unbelievably so) and it’s possible that some of these things might work on me, but not most other people.”

    If you can consistently demonstrate your ability in a properly conducted test, you could easily win James Randi’s million dollar prize. How about proving the skeptics wrong? One Million Dollars could be yours! Here’s the link:

  15. Volker says:

    > and concentrated whole food supplements that preserve all the active enzymes
    > (it’s hard to see how this could help since enzymes are destroyed by digestion).

    You really should know by now. The food mash remembers the enzymes.
    But it’s only a short-term memory.

  16. wdygyp says:

    It seems my earlier comment was not clear enough: You can find the original 37.6 % figure in the document “chapter_10.pdf” of the archive .
    How long this mirror will stay available, I don’t know.

  17. johnnysmoke says:

    you must have seen this expose by James Randi. You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for the AK pratitioner really. She’s obviously convinced that what she’s doing is real, the excuse for it not working is amazing. Talk about kidding yourself.

  18. Hopefully everyone downloaded the link @wdygypon posted. Browse on down to page 135-138.

    As of 2003 (in the 2005) report:

    – 36.7% of chiropractors practiced applied kinesiology
    – 38.0% of chiropractors practiced cranial (sacral) therapy
    – 25.7% of chiropractors practiced Palmer upper cervical therapy (I’m guessing this is similar to NUCCA? Sorry, I can’t keep up with the quackery)
    – 66.1% of chiropractors use ultrasound for treatment (LOL)
    – 58.2% of chiropractors use acupressure or meridian therapy
    – 46.4% of chiropractors use homeopathic remedies
    – 42.8% of chiropractors use vibrational therapy
    – 26.2% of chiropractors use electrodiagnosis
    – 13.6% use acupuncture with needles

    Wow. I can see why the more recent report did not include this information. It’s because it shows what quacks these chiropractors are. I truly pity any patient that finds themselves in a typical chiropractor’s office.

    On p. 138 of the document, we see how almost every chiropractor offers nutritional/dietary recommendations and recommends lifestyle changes, etc. I can only imagine the completely ridiculous information these quacks give their patients. Considering they literally invent diseases (ileocecal valve syndrome, intestinal candidiasis, etc), I’d love to know what kind of nutritional advice they give out. Thankfully we have a declining use of chiropractic in the United States to prevent exposure to these lunatics.

  19. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    There is a trick to AK that Wally Sampson told me. You let a person stretch out an arm sideways, horizontal. You place your own hand on the back of the outstretched arm or wrist. You instruct the person to hold the arm straight and resist your force.

    Now you can press in two different ways.
    A. gradually increase the pressure. Oops, there goes the hand down. You even don’t have to press very hard.
    B. first give a short push as if to test the resistance. You don’t have to press down very much, one cm will do. Let the hand veer
    back just that 1 cm. The result is that a reflex (caused by stretching the muscle involved, I think) will ‘lock’ the joint. If you follow this one-second test by a much larger force the person will be able to resist. You even can dramatically and in vain try to use two hands to push down. The person will feel very strong.

    The interesting thing is that the person thus being tested has no idea why it works like that. I have repeatedly done this (I present it as a joke, letting them hold an ‘unnatural evil mechanical ballpoint’ or a ‘completely natural pencil made from biologically grown wood’, anyway I say from the start that it is a trick). Even so, people don’t notice the ‘exploratory test’.

    Now of course it might be be that I myself unconsciously change the fulcrum or push harder in condition A, but I think that it is the other way around: the AKists unconsciously add extra ‘tests of resistance’ if they think they will meet resistance. I have no way of proving either hypothesis, except Wally Sampson’s explanation. That’s an argument from authority, I know. But is great fun to try it on your friends (“Now hold this matchbox, it contains a powerful homeopathic remedy phosphor X3 which can cure you of all evils and give you extra resistance …. see? See how strong you have become?”) And it is truly remarkable that nobody, even the victim, or at least most ‘victims’, don’t notice the extra tap.

  20. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    PS. In the short Randi YouTube test mentioned by johnnysmoke you can see that that ‘crystal healer’ (Suzy/Susie Holdage/Holditch ?) was using the tap trick. Especially when she is consecutively testing 5 crystals in bags, you can see that she is doing something diferent at #4. Rather than pushing down in one swoop, you see the outstretched hand first go down a bit then up again, as if Suzie immediately stopped pushing after a fraction of a second. The up and down motion is even repeated. Now a person cannot decide in a fraction of a second (after feeling resistance) to stop pushing. So Suzie’s push must have been executed as short push.

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