Thursday 3 February 2000
A frozen shoulder cure?
by Moira Petty
Two-year-old Hannah Tinsley giggled as she was chased around the consulting room. Her mother, Alison, watched, puzzled. Concerned at her daughter's persistent and heavy colds, she had brought Hannah to see Julian Baker, who practises the Bowen technique.
All that Alison knew of the therapy was that it involved gentle manipulation of soft tissue, with the patient normally prostrate on a couch, the lighting low and relaxing music playing. "Hannah wouldn't settle down but Julian made it into a game, tickling her," says Alison. "Then he left the room, returned ten minutes later, and touched her chest area.
"Early the next morning, she vomited and brought up a lot of mucous. She was a lot better after that. Even when she caught a cold this winter, it didn't hang around."
Although Baker made some movements of Hannah's chest to help to dislodge the mucous, the Bowen technique is an holistic therapy. The person, not the condition, is treated and patients often find relief from ailments other than those for which they are seeking help.
The practitioner makes rolling movements, using thumbs and forefingers, on precise points on the body. The aim is to disturb muscle and soft tissue, to stimulate the lymphatic system and the blood circulation. It is gentle and non-invasive and can be done through light clothing.
Several times throughout the session, the practitioner leaves the room for about ten minutes. The aim of Bowen is to stimulate the brain to help the body heal itself. It is thought that the manipulation releases blocked energy and enhances neural communication.
"The body can regenerate itself, restore its own structure. Cells are replaced all the time," says Baker. "I'm wary of people who say they're healers. I'm a facilitator. The patient's brain will start to interpret the message."
Although Bowen is useful for health problems ranging from tension to cancer, it has shown remarkable results with frozen shoulders, repetitive strain injury, general skeletal dysfunction, asthma, sports injuries, eating disorders and infertility.
The technique was developed by Tom Bowen, who worked at a cement plant in Geelong, Australia. Fellow workers suffered from back pains and, after observing a local manipulator, he developed his own techniques and, in the 1960s, opened a clinic.
During the Seventies, an Australian government report on complementary therapies stated that Bowen was seeing 13,000 patients a year. In 1981 he was turned down by the Chiropractors and Osteopaths Registration Board because he failed the examination due to his lack of formal education. He died the following year but his technique is now being taught to final-year osteopathy students on some Australian university courses.
Baker fits in practice with his role as head of the European College of Bowen Studies, which runs courses around the country. He was working as a chef in Australia in the Eighties when a friend who had done a Bowen course offered to treat his longstanding neck complaint. Impressed by an improvement within 24 hours, Baker went on to train with one of Tom Bowen's disciples and brought the technique to Britain in 1992.
Sports injury specialist Helen Kinnear has just carried out the first controlled study into the efficacy of Bowen. Her 18-month study matched 200 sufferers of frozen shoulder, who received treatment from Bowen therapists, with a control group of 200 sufferers who were given a generalised massage, which they thought was Bowen.
Although 50 per cent of the control group reported an improvement, it was minimal, with flexibility increased by an average of eight degrees. Of the Bowen treatment group, 67 per cent reported an improvement, with an average increase in shoulder flexibility of 23 degrees.
Last autumn I was advised to try a course of Bowen for the painful side-effects of an ankle condition. Five years ago, when treating me for a sprained ankle, a hospital physiotherapist diagnosed a condition in which the ankle bones develop abnormally. The condition was causing me to go over on my ankle and stretch the ligaments.
At The Campion Clinic in London, where Baker practises one day a week, he gently manipulated my shoulders, back and legs. This was restful until he tried to push my feet, from the underside, towards my ankles, when I let out a Hammer horror scream. Afterwards I felt dizzy and disoriented and needed to pass water —a sign that toxins are being flushed out.
I was not aware of an improvement until, during the second session, Baker again pushed my feet towards my ankles. Then there was no pain and much more flexibility. After three sessions, I felt as if my feet were more firmly planted on the ground when I walked. Baker explained that my pelvis had been misaligned. I can now stride out with my golden retrievers without turning an ankle.
Julian Baker and The European College of Bowen Studies
The Times Alternative Health Section, Thursday 3 February 2000
by Moira Petty