Bowen Therapy

Bowen therapy, also called Bowenwork or Bowtech, is a form of bodywork. It involves gently stretching the fascia — the soft tissue that covers all your muscles and organs — to promote pain relief.

Specifically, this form of therapy uses precise and gentle, rolling hand movements. These motions focus on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, along with the fascia and skin around them. The idea is to reduce pain by stimulating the nervous system.

The technique was created by Thomas Ambrose Bowen (1916–1982) in Australia. Though Bowen wasn’t a medical practitioner, he claimed the therapy could reset the body’s pain response.

According to therapists who practice Bowenwork, this type of therapy acts on the autonomic nervous system. It’s said to inhibit the sympathetic nervous system (your fight-or-flight response) and activate the parasympathetic nervous system (your rest-and-digest response).

Some people refer to Bowen therapy as a type of massage. It isn’t a medical treatment, though. There’s minimal scientific research on its effectiveness, and its purported benefits are mainly anecdotal. Yet, people around the world continue to seek Bowen therapy for a wide range of conditions.

Let’s take a closer look at the purported benefits of Bowen therapy, along with its possible side effects.

What’s it typically used for?

Bowen therapy is used to treat a variety of ailments. Generally, it’s done to relieve pain and increase motor function.

Depending on the underlying symptoms, it may be used as a complementary or alternative treatment.

The method may be used to treat the following ailments:

  • frozen shoulder
  • headaches and migraine attacks
  • back pain
  • neck pain
  • knee injuries

It might also be done to control pain due to:

  • respiratory conditions, like asthma
  • gastrointestinal disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome
  • cancer treatment

Additionally, some people use Bowen therapy to help with:

  • stress
  • fatigue
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • high blood pressure
  • flexibility
  • motor function
Does Bowen therapy work?

To date, there’s limited scientific proof that Bowen therapy works. The treatment hasn’t been widely researched. There are a few studies on its effects, but the results don’t provide hard evidence.

For example, in a 2016 case reportTrusted Source, a 66-year-old woman received 14 Bowen therapy sessions within 4 months. She sought the therapy due to migraine, as well as neck and jaw injuries caused by car accidents.

The sessions were performed by a professional Bowenwork practitioner who was also the author of the report. An assessment tool was used to track the client’s symptoms, changes in pain, and overall sense of well-being.

During the last two sessions, the client reported no symptoms of pain. When the practitioner followed up 10 months later, the client was still free of migraine and neck pain.

2017 study found conflicting results. In the study, 34 participants received two sessions of either Bowen therapy or a fake procedure. After measuring the participants’ pain threshold on 10 different body sites, the researchers concluded that Bowen therapy had inconsistent effects on the pain response.

However, the participants didn’t have any particular ailments, and the technique was only performed twice. More extensive studies are needed to understand how Bowen therapy affects the pain response, especially if it’s used over a longer period.

There’s some research, though, that supports the use of Bowen therapy for improved flexibility and motor function.

  • In a 2011 study of 120 participants, Bowen therapy improved hamstring flexibility after one session.
  • Another 2011 study found that 13 sessions of Bowen therapy increased motor function in participants with chronic stroke.

While these studies suggest Bowen therapy could benefit pain, flexibility, and motor function, there isn’t enough solid evidence to prove that it has definitive benefits for pain-related ailments and other conditions. Again, more studies are needed.

 
Are there side effects?

Since Bowen therapy hasn’t been extensively studied, the possible side effects aren’t clear. According to anecdotal reports, Bowen therapy may be associated with:

  • tingling
  • tiredness
  • soreness
  • stiffness
  • headaches
  • flu-like symptoms
  • increased pain
  • pain in another part of the body

Bowen practitioners say these symptoms are due to the healing process. Additional research is needed to fully understand any side effects and why they happen.

 
 
What to expect

If you decide to get this type of therapy, you’ll need to seek a trained Bowen practitioner. These specialists are known as Bowenworkers or Bowen therapists.

A Bowen therapy session usually lasts 30 minutes to 1 hour. Here’s what you can expect during your session:

  • You’ll be asked to wear light, loose-fitting clothing.
  • The therapist will have you lie or sit down, depending on the areas that need to be worked.
  • They’ll use their fingers to apply gentle, rolling movements on specific areas. They’ll mainly use their thumbs and index fingers.
  • The therapist will stretch and move the skin. The pressure will vary, but it won’t be forceful.
  • Throughout the session, the therapist will regularly leave the room to let your body respond and adjust. They’ll return after 2 to 5 minutes.
  • The therapist will repeat the movements as necessary.
 

When your session is done, your therapist will provide self-care instructions and lifestyle recommendations. Your symptoms might change during the treatment, after the session, or several days later.

The total number of sessions you need will depend on various factors, including:

  • your symptoms
  • the severity of your condition
  • your response to the therapy

Your Bowen therapist can let you know how many sessions you’ll likely need.

The bottom line

There’s limited research on the benefits and side effects of Bowen therapy. However, practitioners say it can help pain and motor function. It’s thought to work by altering the nervous system and reducing your pain response.

If you’re interested in Bowen therapy, be sure to consult a trained Bowen therapist. It’s important to express any concerns before starting the therapy and to ask questions so you fully understand what to expect.

Find A Therapy has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.
 
  • Bowen therapy. (n.d.).

jtcm.org/bowen-therapy/

 

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