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  • colinliggett

Why I Don't Believe Resistance Band Exercises are Effective for Pain Resolution

Updated: Mar 31

might work for strength training, but if you have an injury, better check the nervous system is allowing that muscle to function correctly first

I constantly hear this - “but I have been doing elastic band exercises for months, and you just got that muscle to work in minutes.” “Yes”, I reply and take a little gasp of air as I feel uncomfortable with the knowledge that the months’ worth of home exercises were probably ineffective and unnecessary. My next thought is- should I tell them?

Manual muscle tests were created in 1912 to assess muscle strength losses during the polio outbreak. It was further refined in the 40s and became a staple muscular assessment method taught in every medical, physical therapy, chiropractor, and massage therapy school ever since. The problem I note is barely anybody I treat has ever had their muscles accessed via manual muscle testing. In an SMR session, in the first 20 minutes, there is a long list of the clients' muscles on my whiteboard that have failed the manual muscle tests. I get constantly asked, “why has no one else tested like this before?”

My theory as to why most practitioners leave their educational institutes and slowly let muscle tests slide from their toolbox is that the classical interpretation of a failed muscle test is incorrect; If the interpretation is incorrect, then the intervention will also be faulty. An example would be a client performing 3 months’ worth of glute medius resistance band exercises but still failing the glute medius manual muscle test on reassessment. When this occurs, practitioners have two options;

  1. change the intervention and retest.


  1. stop using the test.

Sadly, the latter seems to be more common.

There is a growing number of therapies (NKT, PDTR, NMR, SMR, etc.) that no longer see manual muscle testing in the classical sense. Instead of a test of strength, manual muscle test results quantify the neurological disposition of the muscle; inhibited or normal. To support this argument, these therapies, including SMR, can change a failed muscle test to a passed (normal) test within a matter of minutes. If the muscle was truly lacking strength, it would take weeks of strength exercises to alter the test result. So, in my clinical world, the intervention changes the outcome of the test, proving the theory. Better still, clients’ symptoms resolve because when all the muscles around a joint function correctly, proper joint mechanics return, and inflammation no longer occurs.

Is there ever a case for resistance bands, yes especially if there has been muscle wasting due to non-use for a period of time. But even then, any neurological inhibition should always be corrected first, otherwise you are strengthening the muscles around the target muscle and deepening dysfunctional movement patterns that the nervous system has developed as a compensation.

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