The Scam of “Muscle Energy Testing”

muscles of back

I’ve seen numerous “alternative medicine” providers perform something they call “muscle testing” or “muscle energy testing” many times as part of their sales pitch.  They tell you to put one arm out in front of you, and then push down on your arm.  Your arm sinks immediately.

Then they ask you a question, or put some kind of substance or herbal remedy in your opposite hand, and repeat the “test.”  Your arm always stays up better the second time.  The explanation the quacks will give you is that your body “knows what is best for it” and that your arm is somehow “in tune with the universe” enough to know that what you’re holding in your opposite hand will help you.

As this video points out, none of this is true.  The reason your arm does a better job of resisting the force the second time around is simply because your body has learned what to expect.  As John Duffy, the physical therapist in the video, points out, this represents “simple motor learning.”  In the video, he uses his “magic pen” as a joke to represent the “treatments” that some unethical “alternative health” providers con people into taking using this test.

This video was originally posted on the Phoenix Rehabilitation and Health Services, Inc. Facebook page.  I am including the link to view it on the blog Forward Thinking PT because that is where I originally viewed it, and it seemed to come out in a higher quality there.  (Although I have to admit that this may have more to do with the fact that my computer is ancient than anything else…).

Thanks to EUSKALANATO on Flickr for making the above photo available.


8 thoughts on “The Scam of “Muscle Energy Testing”

  1. Yup, I was wondering about the muscle testing. I went to an Energy Healer (referred by my very skeptical brother in law) and the first time nothing. I went back a second time just to give it a fair shake and for the first half of the treatment I just thought it was nuts. I was never going to go back but then this amazing calm came over me and I almost fell asleep for about half an hour. After that I had about half a day of almost no pain – which had been unheard of in the last 8 months! I was thrilled! I gladly went back again expecting another delicious pain reprieve but nothing! So there’s something to it but not consistent enough for my liking. She also gave me energy “exercises” to do at home but they didn’t help at all. Oh well, we live and learn! :)

  2. Fascinating. I’ve done this, too, not too long ago. I recently stopped (a few months ago) because I realized I was spending a *LOT* of money and not feeling *ANY* better.

    1. Yes, exactly. I really wish I could take back all of the time and money I’ve spent on things that I later realized had no scientific merit to them. But the medical establishment does such a terrible job addressing pain that I really didn’t have anywhere else to turn.

      When I look back on my early twenties, I can see how it was basically a choice between asking for help from people with scientific training but no sympathy at all, and people with tons of sympathy but no scientific training. Of course when you’re in pain and not thinking clearly, you choose the latter.

      1. ”a choice between asking for help from people with scientific training but no sympathy at all, and people with tons of sympathy but no scientific training”
        Lol – exactly. I felt the kineasiologists genuinely cared, and somehow i translated that as ‘This will work for me – stupid science doesnt know anything’. I imagine alot of the successes of alternative therapy are down to placebo effect and also making the patient feel better with sympathy and empathy, which is sadly lacking with alot of actual doctors.
        And as were on the subject, Ive tried homeopathy aswell, which oviously didnt help, and actuall made me alot worse as she recommended I come off all antidepressants. Which I stupidly did, and then got clinically depressed.
        I think some of these remedies work sometimes, which is almost unfortunate as theres just enough success to keep the industry going. You only need one person to say it worked for them, and you will have 100 desperate people trying it out, and most likely not working for them.
        I would also like to take back the huge amounts of money ive spent on unscientific therapies.

  3. This was really interesting. i have fallen for this in the past, at £50 a time, as I had to pay for two practitioners working together – one to put the remedies etc in my hands, and one to put their arm on my shoulder (to connect with me somehow), and then have their other arms pushed down by the first practitioner. Sounds ridiculous, but they said they could help me, and I was desperate with the fibro. After about 6 appointments i realised nothing they had recommended to me had made any difference, and they were recommending supplements to me that cost like £30, that i would buy from the shop downstairs – one big scam probably. The thing is, I think THEY believed it all too, which almost makes it worse.
    Since then Ive started taking magnesium (recommended by a fibro organisation’s site), which has REALLY helped me, but which the kineasiologists didnt recommend at any point. So if my body really knew what it needed, why did the magnesium not show up in the testing ever?! they said at the time they were testing one system at a time, and treating me was going to be like peeling off the layers of an onion ie. I need to keep coming back. Ugh.
    Desperation will make us vulnerable and sometimes gullible i think, as we so want to believe that this will be ‘the thing’.
    Thanks for your post x

    1. I forgot to say that one of their supplements actually made me worse – some hormone thing for depression, that they said kept ‘coming up’.

      1. Wow… I can totally identify with your experience. I went through something similar when I first started having all my problems with chronic pain. I was seeing an acupuncturist at a “healing center” in my town that seems to get a lot of business (to this day, people still ask me if I have been there when I mention that I’ve had problems with pain and sports injuries). Of course, nothing he did actually ended up helping.

        And you’re right, I think a lot of people who perform this test actually believe it works. I can’t decide if that makes it better or worse.

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