Bowen technique and frozen shoulder

What is it? A hands-on non manipulative therapy, the Bowen technique involves the practitioner rolling the muscle and connective…

What is it? A hands-on non manipulative therapy, the Bowen technique involves the practitioner rolling the muscle and connective tissue on various parts of the body. The thumbs and fingers are used but the touch is gentle, with little pressure applied. A feature of the technique is a series of breaks during which no work is done and the patient is not touched. This is believed to give the body an opportunity to respond to the information gradually and begin the process of healing itself.

What does it treat? The Bowen technique is a complementary therapy and not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. However, practitioners prefer that their clients are not undergoing other treatments at the same time as the Bowen technique. Back pain, neck pain, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, repetitive strain injury and other musculo-skeletal disorders are believed to respond well to the Bowen technique. Practitioners also report success with asthma and other respiratory problems: hay fever, kidney problems, insomnia and arthritis.

A first timer's experience: (A 54-year-old male member of the caring profession): My first reaction to the therapist was that she seemed very relaxed, confident and reassuring. I was asked to fill in a brief form regarding my personal and medical details. Then, I explained my particular medical problems and the therapist spoke a little about the Bowen technique. I was asked to take off my jacket and shoes and lie on my abdomen on the plinth. The therapist began to make rolling movements of the muscles on various parts of my body - my ankles, my lower back, my mid back, my shoulders and my neck. After this, she left the room and came back a few minutes later. She explained that these gaps were to allow the healing to begin.

During this process, there was soothing music in the background. The room was warm with a pleasant aroma. Then, she asked me to lie on my back and repeated the rolling movements with her thumbs and fingers on my ankles, legs, shoulders and neck. The session lasted an hour and I felt a bit mystified by the process, wondering how such a simple, gentle movement could effect major change. The therapist emphasised the need to drink plenty of water after the treatment. She advised me that I would need at least three to four sessions to get some real benefit. She also said that I shouldn't participate in any exercise like golf or tennis between treatments. I felt relaxed and refreshed afterwards.


An advocate's view: Maura Brady is a fifty-something mother of two grown-up children: "Six years ago, I developed a pain in my left arm which my GP diagnosed as tendonitis. Following a course of anti-inflammatories, I had a cortisone injection in my left shoulder. When the pain returned I decided to go to a chiropractor. After protracted visits the problem eventually healed, but later I developed similar symptoms in my right shoulder. I went back to the chiropractor but my shoulder didn't repair. Around this time, I read about the Bowen technique and found a Bowen therapist. Two years later, I am still going once a fortnight. She has worked on both my arms and shoulders. Each treatment gives me a great sense of calm. I believe the treatment taps into your whole body, sending message to the brain to repair damaged tissue. It has also had a great effect on my bowels and digestive system, which are good barometers of how you are feeling. I also sleep better. I believe everybody needs "a little bit of Bowen".

The medical view: Dr Muiris Houston, The Irish Times's Medical Correspondent says: "There is considerable evidence from random controlled trials of the effectiveness of all types of manipulation for back and neck pain. A specific random trial looking at Bowen technique for frozen shoulder has demonstrated an improvement of 23 degrees in the range of movement of the shoulder joint in the treatment group. Overall, 67 per cent of patients in the trial showed significant level of improvement in their symptoms."

There are two qualified practitioners of the Bowen technique in the Republic and one in Northern Ireland. They can be contacted via the Bowen Therapists European Register. Tel: 0044-1458 252599. A one-hour session with a Bowen technique therapist costs £20- 30. See also:

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment