Interested in kinesiology but not quite sure what exactly it is or what you can expect to do with a degree in kinesiology? Let's dive in.
The word kinesiology derives from the Greek words for the study of movement — and that's exactly what kinesiology is, with the addition of traditional Chinese medicines such as acupuncture and certain chiropractics. Kinesiology, in short, is the scientific study of human (or non-human) bodily movements.
"Modification of the motor system in assessing and treating as well as understanding one of the causes of musculoskeletal dysfunctions is a topic of growing importance in healthcare," according to a 2012 study that explores Applied Kinesiology's definition versus its interpretations. "Applied Kinesiology addresses this interest in that it is a system which attempts to evaluate numerous aspects of health (structural, chemical and mental) by the manual testing of muscles combined with other standard methods of diagnosis. It leads to a variety of conservative, non-invasive treatments."
A kinesiologist essentially evaluates patients' health by exploring the biofeedback from their muscles — they may manually test muscles, visualizing those muscles as linked to specific organs to promote physical, emotional, mental and/or spiritual health.
"Whereas conventional medicine uses muscle testing as a means of assessing the structural and functional health of the neuromuscular unit, applied kinesiology makes use of this technique to understand organ-related, nutritional or emotional imbalances in the body," according to Liji Thomas, MD of News-Medical. "This testing employs the strength or weakness of a muscle to get information about the organ that it is linked to, and the requirement of the body for a particular nutrient. The muscle testing employed is by holding the muscle in isometric contraction against a resistance applied externally, rather than voluntary contraction against an immovable object... This form of manual muscle testing thus identifies the problem, whether in the physical (in relation to the nervous, muscular or skeletal system), emotional or biochemical (metabolic) realm, as well as in the mental, non-organic sphere, with disease, which is not arising or related to the symptomatic systems."
Unlike some other traditional doctors, kinesiologists work with the body itself to harness its own healing powers. They may employ some of the following techniques to do this in conservative, non-invasive ways:
Despite the many techniques that a kinesiologist uses, scientific research surrounding the field largely negates its validity.
"The research published by the Applied Kinesiology field itself is not to be relied upon, and in the experimental studies that do meet accepted standards of science, Applied Kinesiology has not demonstrated that it is a useful or reliable diagnostic tool upon which health decisions can be based," according to one 2014 double-blind study.
For years, researchers have been looking into the legitimacy of the field.
Another earlier study from 2007, "Disentangling Manual Muscle Testing and Applied Kinesiology," for example, also suggests: "When manual muscle testing as used in Applied Kinesiology is disentangled from standard orthopedic/neurological muscle testing, the few studies evaluating specific Applied Kinesiology procedures either refute or cannot support the validity of Applied Kinesiology procedures as diagnostic tests. In particular, the use of manual muscle testing for the diagnosis of organic disease or putative pre/subclinical conditions is insupportable."
Nonetheless, many people find benefits from visiting kinesiologists, especially since kinesiology focuses on preventative healthcare. Many patients will be referred to a kinesiologist after visiting a physiotherapist or chiropractor to begin active rehabilitation.
First things first, if you go for a degree in kinesiology, you might prefer a school with a stamp of approval from a kinesiology accreditation group, though it's not mandatory.
"It is not essential that you complete a kinesiology degree program with program-specific accreditation; there is no single requisite national accreditor for the kinesiology course of study," according to The Best Schools. Still, there are some kinesiology-specific accrediting organizations that can indicate quality and credibility, such as the following:
Once you have a degree in kinesiology from an accredited school, there are a few career paths you can go down with a degree in kinesiology, from physical therapy, athletic training/coaching and physical education, to occupational therapy, rehabilitation and orthopedics or sports medicine.
Of course, given the variety in careers you can have, there's no "typical" career path for someone with a kinesiology degree. Some careers require more education or certifications, for example.
That said, here are five typical jobs you can get with a kinesiology degree.
An athletic trainer is a highly qualified healthcare professional who spends their days collaborating with physicians to provide preventative services, emergency care, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation services for injuries and medical conditions for athletes.
Salary: About $19.55 per hour, according to Payscale
Education: A bachelors or master's degree from an accredited professional athletic training education program and proof of passing a test administered by the Board of Certification (BOC)
A health educator teaches people about health to promote overall wellness. They may work in schools, with companies, community organizations or with clients who come to their own practices.
Salary: About $44,181 per year, according to Payscale
Education: A bachelor's degree and, often Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credentials
A nutritionist works with clients to evaluate their nutritional deficiencies and helps them come up with a gameplan on how to eat better and improve their overall health and wellness.
Salary: About $51,096 per year, according to Payscale
Education: A bachelor's degree in health, nutrition or a related field (i.e. dietetics or food service system management), and sometimes a Master's degree from a program approved by the Accreditation Council for Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), governed by the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics
A rehabilitation therapist spends their days working with patients recovering from injuries, diseases or accidents to help them regain their strength and range of motion.
Salary: About $14.17 per hour, according to Payscale
Education: Accredited Bachelor's and Master's degrees and state licensure, including passing scores on the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy's (NBCOT) registration exam
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.