Bowen Technique for Fibromyalgia
Although it afflicts between six and nine percent of the population, Fibromyalgia is a medical condition that is not well understood. It is characterized by chronic pain throughout the body, weakness, and fatigue; and it most affects women. People with fibromyalgia are often treated with allopathic medication, but the Bowen bodywork technique shows promise in dealing with this chronic health condition.
What is the Bowen Technique?
Australian Thomas Bowen developed a method of gentle soft-tissue bodywork during the 1950s that can to be known as the Bowen Technique. Word of mouth drew patients to Bowen, who found relief from back pain and other ailments at his gentle hands. In 1974, Bowen met Oswald Rentsch at a naturopath conference and agreed to show Rentsch, a massage therapist, how he worked. Bowen wrote nothing down; all we know of his techniques are from Rentsch’s observations and copious notes. In 1976, Rentsch opened his own clinic in Australia, settling in Hamilton, Victoria. After Bowen died in 1982, Rentsch and his wife, Elaine, began teaching other people the Bowen Technique. Bowen Technique practitioners can now be found all around the world.
A Bowen Technique session consists of the practitioner talking with the patient to gain a medical history and determine the nature of the problem. The patient then sits in a chair or lies on a bodywork table for the treatment.
What Kinds of Bowen Technique Movements Help Relieve Fibromyalgia?
During a Bowen Technique treatment, the practitioner uses a series of specific movements on various parts of the patient’s body. These movements differ from massage in that they do not involve vigorous rubbing or a great deal of repetition. Instead, the practitioner moves his or her hands laterally along the muscle (perpendicular to the direction of the muscle fibers). Instead of a stretch or a compression, this movement “challenges” the muscle and its covering, or fascia. The practitioner applies stimulation to two to eight points at a time, pausing for a few minutes between each set to allow the body to respond.
A Bowen Technique Bodywork Session
The practitioner begins working at the center of the body and then works outward. Commonly, the points that are simulated in the first session include the back, neck, shoulders, buttocks, hamstrings, and knees. If the patient has told the practitioner about other troublesome areas, such as the forearms, the practitioner will work on those areas too. A Bowen Therapy session usually lasts between 15 and 45 minutes.
Bowen practitioners counsel their patients to avoid other types of bodywork for several days after a session—including avoiding other Bowen Technique treatments. Patients are also told to drink a lot of water to help the body eliminate toxins released during the session. Walking for half an hour outdoors is also suggested after treatments.
Some patients report feeling better after a single session, but most conditions see lasting improvement after three to five sessions. Some who suffer from chronic conditions benefit from a tune-up session every three to six months.
Resetting the Nervous and Musculoskeletal Systems with Bowel Technique
According to Bowen practitioner Gerri Shapiro, the movements involved in a Bowen treatment are always the same, no matter what the condition being treated. The treatment addresses the relationship between the muscles and the nervous system, a key aspect in fibromyalgia, by challenging the muscle at the point where the nerves connect with it. The practitioner makes a movement perpendicular to the fibers of the muscle, and then pauses to allow the movement to be processed by the nervous system. This allows the brain to respond to the muscle with a message to return to its “default” position; for example, if the muscle has been contracted, the message from the brain will instruct the muscle to relax. By causing the muscle to relax, the movement releases any nerves that have been under pressure, in turn relieving pain.
The practitioner begins by working with the erector muscles of the lower back, then along the gluteal muscles and down into the legs and knees. Then, the treatment continues with movements along the middle and upper back, the shoulders, and the neck. These movements cover most of the 18 tender points used in diagnosing fibromyalgia.
Can the Bowen Technique Relieve Fibromyalgia?
Although more research is needed to conclude that Bowen Technique effectively treats fibromyalgia, some studies have shown its benefits in treating the disease. In a 1997 abstract presented at the 32nd annual conference of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, Dr. Jo Anne Whitaker and her colleagues reported that the fibromyalgia patients in the study reported that they perceived relief from their symptoms after the Bowen Technique was applied; these patients also exhibited a decreased heart rate, a sign of lowered pain.
In another study by Whitaker, almost all of the 20 patients who received Bowen Technique treatments experienced relief, including, in some cases, complete remission of the condition.
A four-patient study by Bowen practitioner Tim Willcocks provided four treatments over a five-week period. All four patients reported improvement, including improved balance, better sleep, and less fatigue.
Is the Bowen Technique Safe?
Because of the gentle movement and touch involved with the Bowen Technique, it does not cause additional pain for patients who suffer from fibromyalgia. The technique appears to be safe for all patients, including pregnant women and children.
What is Fibromyalgia?
People who are eventually diagnosed with fibromyalgia may have spent years visiting doctors and undergoing inconclusive tests. The most effective test for diagnosing the condition involves pressing 18 points on the body and determining how much pain the pressure causes. In an average person, the pressure will be slight and the pain, if any, will be mild. In a person with fibromyalgia, however, the application of pressure to these points causes intense pain. The traditional diagnosis of fibromyalgia required that a person should exhibit pain in at least 11 of the 18 points and have experienced widespread pain for at least three months for a diagnosis of fibromyalgia to be made. However, many people have been diagnosed based on less than 11 points as long as they have other symptoms, such as sleep problems, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), headaches, temporomandibular pain (pain in the jaw joint known as TMJ), and cognitive or memory impairments. Many fibromyalgia sufferers report being more sensitive to light, sound, touch, and smell than non-sufferers.
Although long thought to be an inflammatory illness like arthritis, fibromyalgia has recently been recognized as a neurological condition that involves the body’s inability to process pain correctly. People with fibromyalgia have three or four times more of a particular pain neurotransmitter (Substance P) than non-sufferers do.
The combination of chronic, all-over pain and fatigue often leads to depression. As a result, some fibromyalgia patients are treated with allopathic antidepressant medications, such as Cymbalta. Lyrica (pregabalin), which is also prescribed for shingles, seizures, and pain from damaged nerves, has been effective for some fibromyalgia patients, but it causes a variety of side effects, including blurry vision, edema, and sperm damage. It is the first medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of fibromyalgia.
People of all ages and both sexes can suffer from fibromyalgia, although more women experience the condition than men. People with relatives who have fibromyalgia may be more likely to develop it. It manifests in early to middle adulthood, but it has also been found in children. People with rheumatic diseases, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, are more likely to develop fibromyalgia than are people who do not.
“Bowen Technique: Bowtech, the Original Bowen Technique”: website of Oswald and Elaine Rentsch.
Mayo Clinic article on Fibromyalgia.
Shapiro, Gerri, MS Ed. “The Bowen Technique and Fibromyalgia Relief: Gentle Touch Produces Miracles” (accessed July 17, 2008).