I will present my own theories about how Muscle Response/Reflex Testing (Applied Kinesiology) works. Others have also offered explanations which I will review very briefly first, but offer a much longer treatise on what I think (see also “MRT 1.0: Using MRT“) Muscle Response/Reflex Testing (MRT or Applied Kinesiology, see also “MRT 1.0: Using MRT“) is happening with this technique.
Updated 08 Aug 2014
View From an Applied Kinesiologist
This webinar presents an introduction to energy medicine from the viewpoint of the chiropractor and Applied Kinesiology Specialist, Dr. Leslie S. Feinberg. I suggest that the reader not watch this webinar before reading my explanation of it below, because much of what he says will be confusing to the newcomer to Muscle Response/Reflx Testing.
The aim of this webinar is to tell us how his and other mind-body medicine techniques work, because they are based on the interaction of mind and body. Dr. Feinberg also refers to the NeuroModulatory Technique as a type of “energy medicine,” which looks for a cause. Energy medicine is called this because many of its methods rely upon Eastern philosophy involving energy “fields,” e.g. “qi” is translated as “energy” from Chinese into English, but most Chinese medicine practitioners know that there is more to what qi does than that. Ayurvedic medicine uses the term “prana” for much of the same ideas.
This “energy” has strong association with other concepts, chakras and acupuncture meridians, for example. All of these concepts are recognized by Eastern medicine practitioners as having strong associations with the mind. Thus a more “holistic” approach occurs in Eastern thought, which often confuses the Western medical practitioner. Western medicine thinks of basic physical and chemical concepts of oxygen, ATP, nutrition, and then combines them with physiological concepts of cellular metabolism, hormones, blood, heart, lungs, muscle, brain, and on up the categorical scale when it thinks of “energy.” Suffice it to say, the translation of Eastern thought into Western thought is not complete yet, giving rise to a great deal of variability in how it is spoken of today.
A distinction is made in this webinar between Dr. Feinberg’s interaction with the patient and that of other health care professionals. He tells us that the mind of the practitioner using applied kinesiology’s Muscle Response/Reflex Testing has to be on the mechanics of the treatment while they are treating the patient, unlike other practitioners’ methods. For instance, much of what a dentist does is mechanistic. He/she must think about the method while examining the mouth and looking for signs of tooth decay, malocclusion, microbial infection, damage or cancer. Once the steps of preparing a tooth for filling a cavity begin, the whole process can be carried out automatically, to some degree, like a robot, because the dentist has done this so many times.
When using any energy medicine technique, the practitioner must maintain a “mind-to-mind” contact with the patient, in order for it to work. He does not use the word “telepathy” at all, probably because of the “voodoo” association it has. Instead, he uses the word “intent.” All of the examples he mentions in this webinar are to show that results of any of the practices used by acupuncturists, massage therapists, chiropractors, and other alternative medicine practitioners can be explained as the mechanics of their practice, and not by intent.
Dr. Feinberg describes research that backs up his theory. He does a test with another chiropractor and a patient who is asked to identify which vials held which fruit extracts, using Muscle Response/Reflex Testing. Supposedly, the chiropractor hands a vial to the patient silently. She then feels the vial and silently, using the self-testing mode of MRT, asks which fruit is in it, presumably from a list she has in her mind. This particular patient was chosen because she has a high success rate in reaching the same answer as this chiropractor. Dr. Feinberg suggests that she gets it right only because she picks up the chiropractor’s “intent.” She may be a good tester because she picks up the knowledge of the content from the chiropractor when he knows what it is, having seen the label. Feinberg doesn’t say whether either he or the chiropractor is speaking at any time during the test, even if it is not about the vial, only that they are silent when the vial is handed to the patient.
In order to test whether the patient is truly getting the answer from the vial, and not from the chiropractor who knew what was in the vial, he describes a “double-blind” test, where the label is covered so that the chiropractor doesn’t know which fruit is in the vial. Under the same conditions as before, the chiropractor hands a vial to the patient. The patient has a much lower correct answer rate now. Dr. Feinberg concludes that the patient could not have picked up the chiropractor’s “intent” because he had none during this second test.
Dr. Feinberg doesn’t tell us how “intent” is communicated silently to the patient in clear biological terms, so anyone can be forgiven for listening to his explanation coldly. Instead his long introduction, invoking quantum physics and the placebo effect before he describes the method approaches the realm of para-normal phenomena.
I discuss how we can transmit our physiological status through electricity in the skin and sound waves in our voices in “The Content of our Voices.” By not controlling for the information that might be found in the voice, many experiments on “silent” transmission (e.g mind-reading, telepathy, “intent”) may not be fully controlled, thus calling into question the conclusions reached.
Dr. Feinberg says that all of the “energy medicine” methods (referring to MRT and others) help the practitioner give “shape” to their intention to heal. He describes Dr. William Tiller’s experiments on changing the pH of water by intention. Dr. Feinberg never describes how “intent” changed the pH of water. But Tiller does say that the intent has to be specific. The pH won’t change if the person is thinking about a color change–only if the person is thinking about a specific acid-base balance change.
Conscious and Unconscious Thought
From my own experience with using MRT, changing the pH is only a few steps away from thinking about charge and molecular weight, which would be closer to how the brainstem views body chemistry. I have learned that “thought” involves many steps, and thus many circuits, some lower level or nearer to the origin, and some higher level, entering into the process later. The origin is at the unconscious level, and usually in the brainstem. The kind of “thought” you need to address at the unconscious level is clearly at these lower level circuits.
For example, in the figure above, spinal nerves carry pain signals from the hand up to various centers in the brain. Coming from the lowest level, these nerves may carry a signal from pain receptors in the hand directly to the thalamus, which acts as a relay center to higher levels, but also back down to lower levels in the brain. Pain is not perceived as pain, until the higher centers in the neocortex tell us that we are in pain. That is why there is a slight delay between the moment we see we touched a hot pan, to the moment we feel the pain. Before we are even conscious that we felt pain, we have pulled our hand back. In fact, that reflex is just as fast as if we did not know the pan was hot and had no reason to believe it was hot. That speed can only be realized if signals to the medulla are faster than to the neocortex. However, the withdrawal reflex by the hand is still slower than the physiological response by the rest of the body to pain.
So what kind of “thought” is being done at these lower levels? The neurotransmitter in the brain, which is carried by neurons signaling pain is substance P. It is also released from pain nerves at the site of pain in the dermis, muscle, tendon, joints, etc. It is strongly associated with both somatic pain (as I have described here) and emotional pain in the brain. Circuits from the thalamus to other parts of the brain trigger its release there. It is clearly found in the medulla, mesencephalon, hypothalamus, and higher centers. We can conclude that the thalamus is sending pain signals to a lot of centers in the brain.
Given the functioning of the medulla, we can see that a hierarchy of steps in the transmission of pain information can occur. At the lowest levels, in the posterior medulla, the concern may be with chemistry. Substance P is “perceived” as a chemical mix of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon, and other small molecules, each one triggering a neuron assigned to that kind of detection. The anterior medulla might build upon which neurons in the posterior medulla are firing off, and conclude that the Substance P is being released. The mesencephalon takes signals from the medulla and integrates those with information about which organs are affected. It will determine the circuitry involved with transmitting this information to other areas of the brain, including both lower and higher centers. The hypothalamus is more concerned with acting on the pain indications and its focus will be on getting other systems to respond, triggering serotonin and epinephrine as part of the “fight or flight” response.
Each of these centers also sends this information to other areas nearby, and also signals back to the thalamus what it is doing. The thalamus doesn’t integrate this information but sends it as it gets it to the prefrontal lobe of the neocortex. We only become conscious of the sensation of pain (but not all those other things happening) when the information comes to the prefrontal lobe from the primary somatosensory cortex about the final location and the sensory modality. It then integrates it with the information from the rest of the brain to help it formulate what to do with the conscious brain–pull the hand away.
An example is helpful here. In order to understand how MRT works, you have to learn all the steps in unconscious “thought” that have to occur before you ever get to a higher level concept such as color of a changed molecule of water. Before you can get a good answer to a question about color, using MRT, you have to teach the unconscious mind that the presence of particular chemical elements is associated with a particular color. This example shows us that there is a lot about how the nervous system works that we do not understand well enough to explain the results of these experiments.
Why Use a Muscle Reflex To Learn What The Brainstem is Thinking?
A very good explanation of an answer to this question can be seen in the video by Darren Weissman below:
Muscle Response/Reflex Testing is just one technique of many that one can categorize as mind-body medicine. It involves asking the patient’s unconscious brain questions, and getting an answer from what a muscle does in response to a reflex test. Because a muscle supplies sensory information all the time to the spinal cord in the simple reflex arc, the nervous system relies upon getting proprioception (position sense) from the muscle before it issues a command to contract.
A normal Biceps brachii Reflex exam result can be seen below:
Anyone can block this simple reflex, simply by thinking hard enough. Often a person uses an opposite reflex to block the one being tested, as when a person tightens the hamstrings as the doctor taps the patellar tendon to the extensor reflex of quadriceps muscles. With training, a person can easily block any reflex by thinking about it. To use MRT, a person must associate this blocking of a reflex with the word “yes.” Anyone who has had this test done on shoulder flexors is taken by surprise by the sudden failure in ability to resist the downward push by the practitioner’s hand against the raised arm (I suspect the spinal cord is blocking contraction by the coracobrachialis muscle which acts as a giant proprioceptor of the shoulder joint).
This type of testing is a clear mind-body medicine technique because it makes the unconscious act conscious. The reflex is an unconscious act. We become aware of it only because someone pointed it out to us by making us do it while sitting quietly on the examining table. We did not intend to extend the knee so that our conscious intention was disrupted by this unconscious act. Training our nervous system to translate an unconscious act into our awareness that this unconscious act has happened (or transmitting that unconscious sensation to the conscious brain) is a key to making Muscle Response/Reflex Testing into a powerful diagnostic tool.
Muscle Response/Reflex Testing makes the conscious brain become “mindful” of unconscious processes. Thus, when using MRT, you are also starting to learn how to use “mindfulness.” Mindfulness meditation is a practice now espoused by many psychotherapists who apply it to how we think consciously, but most do not realize how it can be useful for learning how we think unconsciously, as well as for controlling our physiological processes (Mindfulness Techniques).
This basic training is very easy to do, and the results are fast in coming. However, applying this type of testing to more complex ideas demands extensive training of the nervous system. The amount of training is no different from that needed by basketball players capable of shooting 3-point baskets. The only difference is that MRT training involves more or other than the motor system.
Muscle Response/Reflex Testing in Practice
The questions a practitioner must ask should always be in the form demanding a “yes” or “no” answer. However, the patient, upon hearing the questions being asked out loud may remember something relevant that can be used by the practitioner to guide further questions. This practice demands that a person be as holistic as possible, and who cares about both emotional and physical aspects of a patient’s health. Furthermore it is extremely helpful in guiding the decisions about what to test in the patient.
By asking certain questions of the patient’s body, using MRT, the practitioner can help the brain discover all the pathways involved, and do repairs. I found that back pain can be caused not only by physical injury in the spine, but also by toxic chemical damage to nerves, both peripheral and centrally located, as well as by emotional trauma.
Any emotional trauma, no matter how small (e.g. you can’t find your keys, and you are worried that it may be a symptom of Alzheimer’s) can cause some pain in the back, mainly because the pain there is associated with a traumatic incident from an earlier time, and the brain associates that incident with various sensory pathways. Thus, “body memory” may be totally unconscious, but the outcome (in this case, pain) is conscious.
Muscle Response/Reflex Testing is only one of many mind-body medicine techniques that can help to round out medical treatment for most conditions, disorders, or diseases.
I present many examples of using MRT at the following websites:
The Seven Main Chakras, as used in Reiki today, from Wikimedia
Vial of homeopathic liquid, from Wikimedia
Conscious vs Unconscious Thought, modified from BrainWiki
A pain reflex as René Descartes illustrates in “Traite de l’homme” 1664, from Wikimedia
Substance P, from Wikimedia
Perpetual Question, from BenduKiwi at Wikimedia
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