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Autonomic Response Testing

Autonomic Response Testing is a method of examining the responsiveness of the autonomic nervous system. In order to understand how this method works and what information can be obtained from it, it is essential that the physiology of the autonomic nervous system be fully appreciated.

The autonomic nervous system (the ANS) is that part of the nervous system involved in regulation of body processes, (e.g. circulation, secretion of hormones and enzymes, and modulation of muscle tone). The ANS is autonomous in the sense that it is more or less independent of voluntary control. It also has a degree of anatomic autonomy, in that much of it is structurally separate from the spinal cord and higher centers of the brain.

Autonomic nerve fibers may run independently of motor and sensory nerves, but more commonly run with them or with blood vessels. Distally, terminal fibers travel in the extracellular space, reaching every single part of the body. They do not synapse with specific receptors, but rather exert their influence by secreting neurotransmitters into the extracellular space.

The autonomic nervous system determines not only the level of arousal of the organism, but also the body's regulatory priorities on a moment to moment basis. Maximum circulatory efficiency can be obtained by shunting blood to the organ(s) needing it most at any time. It may also shunt blood away from organs or regions of the body that are being threatened; e.g. circulation may be reduced to a part of the body when there is a risk of hemorrhage or spread of infection.

Under certain circumstances, this shunting of blood to or away from organs or regions of the body may persist for far longer than required. An extreme example of this is sympathetic dystrophy, where there is a chronic pathological vasospasm or vasodilation.

Less obviously, skin temperature can change with myofascial pain syndromes, especially after accidents. Even more subtly, circulation may be chronically slowed to an organ after any trauma, be it mechanical, infectious, or toxic. An example would be recurrent pneumonia, where a localized weakening of the lung's immune defenses may appear.

Autonomic response testing is a method of evaluating the ANS' ability to respond to stimulation. If a response is not present, the body (or part of the body) will not be able to adjust to changes in its environment and will be more susceptible to dysfunction and disease.

There are many methods of testing autonomic response that have long been part of clinical medicine. Measuring blood pressure in the sitting and recumbent postures would be an example. Pinching the skin and observing blanching and then capillary refilling is another.

Non-traditional, and eastern medicine pays particular attention to the state of the autonomic nervous system, although other terms are used to describe it. For example, "pulse diagnosis", a fundamental technique of Chinese medicine, provides information about many aspects of the body's health through the "shape" of the radial pulse.

In the 1950's Voll1, a German physician and researcher, discovered that acupuncture points had characteristic electrophysiological properties which could be correlated with ANS physiology. Electronic devices have since been designed that measure electrogalvanic skin responses to various stimuli. The forms of stimulation that elicit these responses can be very subtle and include what appear to be unique electromagnetic signals characterising every biologically active substance.

In the 1950's and 60's Korr2 and Denslow studied the neurophysiology of somatic dysfunction and showed that there was a close correlation between muscle, joint, and autonomic nervous system function (and dysfunction).

In the 1960's Beardall3, an American chiropractor, discovered that subtle changes in muscle strength could be detected, when the body or parts of the body are stimulated, again in various ways. A whole system of examination using many different muscles was developed by him and others which they called "Applied Kinesiology".

Klinghardt4 has observed that Applied Kinesiology is in effect a method of examining the autonomic nervous system and has proposed the generic term "Autonomic response testing". Although he was referring to muscle testing when he first used the term, there is no reason why it should not be used for all techniques that provoke the ANS to respond. When using muscles clinically it is usually helpful to mention that a muscle or group of muscles are acting as "indicators" in autonomic response testing.

In clinical medicine, autonomic response testing can be used to determine the responsiveness of the ANS as a whole, to diagnose what may be "blocking" it, and to find localized areas of autonomic dysfunction. These are typically found in somatic dysfunctions, scars, autonomic ganglia, nerve trunks, organs, and teeth.

Autonomic response testing, especially when using muscles as indicators is a highly subjective technique. A diagnosis should never be made on the basis of autonomic response testing alone. Rather, the findings should help paint a clinical picture that might include the patient's history, other physical findings and objective laboratory reports and imaging results.



1. Voll R, Wechseldeziehungen von Odontomen zu Organen und Gewebssytem. In Dosch P: Freudenstadter Vortrage, Band 2, Karl F. Haug Verlag, Heidelberg 1974. (See also note in English on page 136 in Manual of Neural Therapy according to Huneke, Dosch P, 1984, Karl F Haug Publishers, Heidelberg.)

2. Korr IM, The collected papers of Irvin M. Korr, 1979, American Academy of Osteopathy, 3500 DePauw Boulevard, Suite 1080, Indianapolis, IN 46268-1136

3. Beardall, A.G. Clinical Kinesiology, Vols. I - VII, A.G.`Beardall Trust, Lake Grove, Oregon, 1981.

4. Klinghardt D, Williams M.S. Neural Kinesiology I seminar. Courses offered by American Academy of Neural Therapy. For information contact www.neuraltherapy.com.