Gathering the shiatsu evidence


The first long-term European study shows concrete evidence for shiatsu, writes Sylvia Thompson

ONE OF the biggest problems that complementary therapies face in the western world is the lack of scientific evidence to prove their benefits, despite many personal testimonies.

In the past 10 years or so, the situation has improved with a growing evidence base for therapies such as aromatherapy, herbal medicine, homeopathy and massage therapy.

Now, the first long-term European study of the Japanese bodywork therapy, shiatsu, throws light on the experience of going for shiatsu treatments with client follow-up at three and six months.

The study, which was co-ordinated by Dublin-based Shiatsu practitioner Seamus Connolly, was based on the experiences of almost 1,000 shiatsu clients in Britain, Austria and Spain.

One of the most significant findings in the study was that 85 per cent of clients reported a significant reduction in symptoms of tension and stress and problems with muscles, joints or body structure, including back pain and posture.

"This is interesting not only because of the positive benefits themselves but also because the clients, on average, only had one session of Shiatsu per month," explains Connolly, who is also the research co-ordinator of the European Shiatsu Federation.

Four out of five clients also said that they had made lifestyle changes - in particular they had increased both the amount of rest and relaxation and exercise that they took.

And, one in three clients said that they had made other changes including better body/mind awareness, changes in levels of confidence and resolve, general wellbeing and the experience of being more grounded.

"This is one of the very significant public health implications which arose from the study," says Connolly.

"Shiatsu clients are motivated to make changes in their diet, exercise and rest and relaxation.

"This means that shiatsu can play a role in assisting people to change unhealthy lifestyle habits."

The study also found changes in the client's healthcare usage. For instance, use of conventional medicine and specific medication declined while use of other complementary or alternative medicine increased alongside their use of shiatsu.

The study was carried out under Prof Andrew Long in the School of Healthcare at the Faculty of Medicine in the University of Leeds, and will be published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in October.

Shiatsu has been practising professionally in Europe for 35 years. In Ireland, there are approximately 30 shiatsu practitioners, the majority of whom offer treatments in private practice.

While there are some shiatsu practitioners working in integrated primary care practices in Britain, Austria and Sweden, there aren't any in Ireland as yet.

In Japan, shiatsu has been recognised as a paramedic discipline and patients are referred for shiatsu within the western orthodox medical model.

The Shiatsu Society of Ireland is the recognised professional body which represents shiatsu practitioners and lays down minimum training requirements, accreditation standards and ethical guidelines. It also holds a register of practitioners, all of whom are obliged to be insured to practise.

People seeking shiatsu treatment are advised to check whether the practitioner is a member of this professional body before having treatment.