What is Kinesiology?

By Nancy Dail

Recently, Laura Allen asked “What is your favorite Kinesiology book?” From the bulk of the answers to her question, it was clear that many in our industry do not really know the definition of Kinesiology. To further confuse the issue, modalities have been labeled as “Applied Kinesiology” and later “Touch for Health” interchanged the terms kinesiology as a title. Massage curriculum has not always included kinesiology as a part of massage therapy education. Many believe that kinesiology and myology (the study of muscles) carry the same definition.

In 1964, Dr. George Goodheart developed “Applied Kinesiology” using manual resisted muscle testing with compression and circular friction to the origins and insertions of muscles. He incorporated the knowledge and use of meridians to his modality. Years later Dr. John Thie developed “Touch for Health” using Goodheart’s principles. These are useful modalities, not the study of Kinesiology.

Anatomy is simply learning the structure of the human body. It is all inclusive; one learns cells, nerves, bones, muscles, blood vessels, skin, etc. Physiology is the how the body functions. The function of the cells, nerves, bones, muscles, etc. Anatomy and Physiology have long been a part of massage curriculum; it is a basis for learning. When one locates the bones, finds the boney landmarks, and palpates the muscles, one is learning the anatomy of the structure and the location of the muscles. This should be, and for the most is, part of the training for any manual therapies.

Kinesiology is the study of muscles in motion. Not only does one study the location, attachments, actions, and innervations of the muscles, one also studies the principles and laws of motion, how bones act as levers, the angle of pull, balance, roles of muscles, proprioceptors, and how all this affects action. It includes the range of motion of a joint and how muscles can move actively, passively, and what happens with manual resistance and in stretch. With this knowledge, then the practitioner can evaluate the actions of the client, history, injuries, posture, and develop a treatment protocol that will be individually appropriate for that client. It is a course that can build on the foundation of Anatomy and Physiology. It is regularly studied and part of the curriculum for physical therapists and athletic trainers. It should be a part of each massage therapist’s training.

Orthopedic massage, developed by Whitney Lowe, takes the knowledge of kinesiology and asks the practitioner to apply four components: “orthopedic assessment, matching the physiology of the tissue injury with the physiological effects of treatment, treatment adaptability and rehabilitation protocol.”(see footnote below) This takes evaluation to another level using multiple modalities. It utilizes many aspects of kinesiology as a knowledge base.

In our professional field, we have long had problems defining ourselves, techniques, modalities, developing standards and generally agreeing on curriculum. This autonomy makes us unique in health professional fields, but also can be a determent to our development and integration. I have long felt that science is the foundation of your art. Kinesiology is a part or should be a part of that science.

Nancy W. Dail, BA, LMT, NCTMB has been a professional practicing massage therapist and a member of the AMTA since 1974. She is the founder and director of the Downeast School of Massage in Waldoboro, Maine (USA) (1980). A leader in her field, Nancy presents workshops internationally, is certified in Orthopedic and Sports Massage, and has developed the working philosophy of Dimensional Massage Therapy as lead author in Kinesiology for Manual Therapies published by McGraw-Hill. Her BA in Health, Arts, and Science from Goddard College helps her balance her administrative duties as Director with teaching Dimensional Massage, Advanced Skills, Kinesiology, Ethics and related subjects at DSM.

Quote above on the four components for orthopedic massage from: Orthopedic Massage Theory and Technique by Whitney Lowe Chapter 1 page 5. Elsevier Science, 2003.

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