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Diagnose this: Applied Muscle Testing ferrets out your allergies, bad boyfriends, and more

Sure, patients come to chiropractors for adjustments. But for David Simpson, D.C, a New York City chiropractor for 25-plus years, it’s your life he wants to help straighten out, not just your spine.

Simpson is leading a whole-being approach to chiropractics called applied kinesiology (AK), or applied muscle testing. It’s a diagnostic practice used ferret out the substances that ail your body—from the food you eat to things you’re exposed to, like a bossy boyfriend or chlorine bleach—and aims to make you feel better with proper nutrition, supplements, and life changes.

Most New Yorkers visit Simpson for lower back pain or tendonitis, for which he uses massage, chiropractic and physical therapies. But if the patient doesn’t improve after a few weeks, he switches to a mind-body approach. “If there’s little or no progress, then we look for something in their lives on a functional, day-to-day level that’s preventing them from healing,” Simpson explains. “I take into account everything from past emotional traumas to their present environment, which in New York City, could easily be causing it.”

These vials contain "trigger substances" that reveal your body's sensitivities

While Simpson can’t exorcise your childhood issues or control the city’s air quality, he can help you identify your stressors. He administers a test that assesses your strength when exposed to irritants. Kind of a cross between that carnival mallet-and-gong game and traditional allergy testing.

This is how it works: You lie down face-up, with your arm raised so it’s perpendicular to the floor. He applies pressure to your arm, which you press against without too much effort. He then tests how your arm withstands pressure when he places small glass vials filled with potential triggers, right beneath your sternum. The vials might contain substances like wheat, nuts, dry cleaning chemicals, and a nefarious-sounding “bacteria/viruses.” Depending on the contents, you may not be able to keep your arm raised, and these are the perpetrators that may be making your muscles weak and your body ill.

I confess I was a total skeptic: I didn’t understand how exactly stressors in small glass vials affected the way my muscles functioned. But time and again, I couldn’t hold the pressure of his arm when the he placed the wheat vial on my stomach. (I got a second opinion from an acupuncturist who also diagnosed my digestive vigor as “weak” and recommended I cut out gluten.)

Dr. David Simpson

After identifying the substances you should avoid, Simpson will coach you on the right foods to eat. He likes the Eat Right For Your Blood Type Diet, and may also recommend supplements such as probiotics or digestive enzymes, and suggest ways on how to reduce stress, always a key factor. Depending on your medical history or situation, he may co-treat you with another doctor or alternative medicine specialist.

Simpson acknowledges that while the testing isn’t foolproof, he sees AK as a useful diagnostic tool. “I’ve had cases where I’ve prevented unnecessary surgery with supplements, or someone addressed their failing marriage, got divorced, and the pain evaporated. But there are much harder cases,” he says. “I’m always looking for the connections between what’s happening in a patient’s body, their diet, and their mental hygiene, so I can guide them. Muscle testing extends my ability to do this.”—Bora Chang

For a consultation, with David Simpson, D.C., M.S.T., contact Simpson Chiropractic, 415 West 57th Street, 212-246-0030,