On the reliability and validity of manual muscle testing: a literature review

Chiropr Osteopat. 2007 Mar 6;15:4. doi: 10.1186/1746-1340-15-4.


Introduction: A body of basic science and clinical research has been generated on the manual muscle test (MMT) since its first peer-reviewed publication in 1915. The aim of this report is to provide an historical overview, literature review, description, synthesis and critique of the reliability and validity of MMT in the evaluation of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems.

Methods: Online resources were searched including Pubmed and CINAHL (each from inception to June 2006). The search terms manual muscle testing or manual muscle test were used. Relevant peer-reviewed studies, commentaries, and reviews were selected. The two reviewers assessed data quality independently, with selection standards based on predefined methodologic criteria. Studies of MMT were categorized by research content type: inter- and intraexaminer reliability studies, and construct, content, concurrent and predictive validity studies. Each study was reviewed in terms of its quality and contribution to knowledge regarding MMT, and its findings presented.

Results: More than 100 studies related to MMT and the applied kinesiology chiropractic technique (AK) that employs MMT in its methodology were reviewed, including studies on the clinical efficacy of MMT in the diagnosis of patients with symptomatology. With regard to analysis there is evidence for good reliability and validity in the use of MMT for patients with neuromusculoskeletal dysfunction. The observational cohort studies demonstrated good external and internal validity, and the 12 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that were reviewed show that MMT findings were not dependent upon examiner bias.

Conclusion: The MMT employed by chiropractors, physical therapists, and neurologists was shown to be a clinically useful tool, but its ultimate scientific validation and application requires testing that employs sophisticated research models in the areas of neurophysiology, biomechanics, RCTs, and statistical analysis.