Tag Archives: chronic pain

Bowen Therapy – Addressing the Missing Piece in Pain Treatments

This post is the outcome of being asked repeatedly how Bowen Therapy works, either by patients skeptical of gentle pressure effectively reducing symptoms of chronic pain, or shocked by the fact that gentle pressure successfully relieved their chronic pain where more aggressive treatments did not.

It draws primarily on a really great article on the concept of “central sensitization” as a cause for chronic pain by Paul Ingrham, referenced below.

Presently, dominant pain theory, and as a result, almost all pain treatments, focus on the tissue affected by injury/having pain (e.g., the joints in a person having arthritis, the neck of a person having whiplash), but ignore the role the brain plays in the experience of pain.

Although the impetus for pain occurs in the tissues (e.g., touching a hot pan), pain itself is experienced because your brain is “telling you” there is a “danger” at your hand (“Move your hand!”).

Central sensitization is not a theory, it is a physiological fact, operating by a known mechanism (neuroplasticity), explaining the way in which chronic pain modifies your brain and spinal cord in such way that it begins to signal “danger”, in the form of pain, inappropriately.

Basically, chronic pain “teaches” your brain that danger is a constant presence. It responds by giving you a constant “be gentle/careful” signal in the form of pain.

Central sensitization is the mechanism by which:

  • Pain may remain long after the tissue has recovered from the original injury (e.g., a person may experience muscle aches years after an auto collision).
  • Relatively minor pains may develop into a state of chronic pain (e.g., the development of chronic muscle aching, without any identifiable trauma).
  • Persons may experience pain more intensely than the stimulus suggests they should (e.g., the pain fibromyalgia sufferers experience from gentle pressure; persons having relatively minor joint damage experiencing debilitating joint pains).

How “Brain Pain” is Treated

As I wrote above, almost all pain treatments focus on the tissue where the pain is felt – anti-inflammatories for inflammation at the joints, chiropractic manipulation for misalignment of the spine, etc.

Based on what is known, the general guidelines for treating centralized pain are:

  1. Rule-out, or if present, address trauma at the painful tissue (i.e., if you have a broken bone, the brain is correctly reporting a threat – it must be addressed before the pain can subside).
  2. Minimize aggravation of the pained area (including aggressive treatments) which may reinforce the brain’s assessment of threat.
  3. Re-train your brain to understand that stimulation of the tissue in question is not a danger by “… exposing yourself to the pain, gently and cautiously challenging the body, probably mainly with activity and exercises in a baby-steps way. Other kinds of stimulation are potentially useful as well …”
  4. Being “kind” to your nervous system – essentially manage stress and allow the nervous system to be in a state that it is able to respond to stimuli calmly rather than “freaking out” at every trigger.
  5. Increase “plasticity” of the brain to foster “re-training” of the central nervous system out of it’s “pain habit”.

Bowen Therapy is a method of “gently and cautiously challenging the body”.

Although when Tom Bowen developed Bowen Therapy in the 1950’s, the concepts of central sensitization of pain and neuroplasticity did not yet exist, Bowen Therapy treatments and self-care he recommended to support treatments, reflects closely what is known about treatment of centralized pain today.

Bowen Therapy treatments are comprised of gentle pressure challenging muscles in areas of pain, followed by pauses integrated into the treatments to allow the brain to become comfortable with and understand that it is “safe” – no harm will occur from stimulus to the area.

The after-care recommendations are to be gentle with your body – engaging in gentle motion (e.g., walking), but avoiding strenuous activity (e.g, challenging exercise, aggressive treatments).

To further support Bowen Therapy treatments, based on what we now know about centralized pain, I might include meditation and intermittent fasting in a patients treatment plan.

You can learn more about Bowen Therapy, including research and more case report findings in treatment of a wide range of health conditions here.


Ingraham P. Central sensitization in chronic pain: pain itself can change how pain works, resulting in more pain with less provocation [Internet]. PainScience. Updated 2018 Sep [cited 2018 Oct 10]. Available at: https://www.painscience.com/articles/central-sensitization.php.

Sibille K, Bartsch F, Reddy D, Fillingim R, Keil A. Increasing neuroplasticity to bolster chronic pain treatment: a role for intermittent fasting and glucose administration? The journal of pain : official journal of the American Pain Society. 2016;17(3):275-281. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2015.11.002.

– Jonah Lusis, ND


Posted: 2018 Oct 10

Bowen Therapy (Bowen Technique)

Relax, Reset, Rebalance

Bowen Therapy is a gentle, hands-on treatment used primarily to decrease pain and increase mobility, and reduce stress and anxiety.

A much more gentle intervention than many conventional pain treatments (e.g., some forms of chiropractic manipulation or physiotherapy), Bowen Therapy may be an effective alternative for patients having much pain (e.g., severe injury), increased sensitivity to pain (e.g., having fibromyalgia); or simply requiring gentle treatment (e.g., elderly, children).

It addresses an area that most pain therapies ignore, “centralized pain”, “re-training” your brain to “let go” of it’s pattern of experiencing pain, particularly chronic pain, pain that has not responded well to other treatments (e.g., “frozen shoulder”), and pain in persons seeming to be extraordinarily sensitive to pain (e.g., fibromyalgia).

Bowen Therapy may be used as either a primary treatment, or supportive treatment. As a primary treatment, it typically used for chronic conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system (e.g., fibromyalgia, recovery from injury, “frozen shoulder”).

It is used as a supportive treatment in cases where the autonomic (“unconscious”) nervous system appears to be in need of being “re-set” (e.g., constipation, heart palpitation) or for stress management (e.g., management of anxiety).

The goal of treatment using Bowen Therapy is usually complete resolution of pain, or complete return to previous function.

Benefits of Bowen Therapy

Bowen Therapy may be of benefit, in some capacity, the treatment almost any health condition.

A study titled “The Bowen Technique: a study of it’s prevalence and effectiveness”, presented at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill found that Bowen Therapy treatment was:

  • 95% effective in the treatment of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction
  • 88% effective in the treatment of neck pain
  • 85% effective in the treatment of low back pain
  • 83% effective for the treatment of stress and tension
  • 80% effective for the treatment of fibromyalgia
  • 80% effective for the treatment of hip pain
  • 75% effective for the treatment of non-specific pain conditions

Other research has demonstrated that Bowen Therapy:

  • Improves decreases tremor and improves sleep quality in patients having Parkinson’s disease
  • Reduces heart rate variability (“normalized” heart rate) and slows heart rate in 100% of fibromyalgia patients
  • Increased neck range of motion, and decreased “disability scores” in patients having trapezitis (neck and shoulder pain, and restricted movement) when combined with physiotherapy
  • Improves mobility and function; and reduced pain (on average) from a score of 7/10 to 1/10 in 100% of “frozen shoulder” patients
  • Reduces migraine headache frequency and/or intensity in 80% of patients
  • Improves symptoms of restless legs syndrome in 3/5 patients receiving treatment
  • Completely reduces symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome in 4/6 patients receiving treatment, with complete resolution of symptoms  in 3/4 of these cases
  • Significantly improves motor function of patients recovering from stroke
  • Improves sleep and a general sense of well-being

A single Bowen Therapy treatment has been demonstrated to:

  • Decrease feelings of depression by 51%
  • Decrease feelings of anxiety by 21%
  • Decrease fatigue by 41%
  • Decrease sense of tension by 62%
  • Decrease feelings of anger by 47%
  • Decrease confusion by 33%
  • Increase flexibility (in hamstrings) by 26-34%

Learn more about the experience of, and results from Bowen Therapy treatment for a range of health conditions at these sites:

  • Details of some of the research described above, including studies on treatment of frozen shoulder, carpal tunnel syndrome and restless leg syndrome
  • Six case reports, including treatment of disc injury
  • Six case reports, including treatment of sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome and “tennis elbow”
  • Six case reports, including treatment of hip and knee pain, and recovery from knee and lung surgeries
  • Six case reports, including treatment of various neuralgias
  • Five case reports, including treatment of sciatica; and further insight into potential mechanisms of action of Bowen Therapy
  • Four case reports, including treatment of migraine headaches, sciatica and “frozen shoulder; and further insight into potential mechanisms of action of Bowen Therapy
  • Three case reports, including recovery from auto collision
  • 22 case reports, including treatment of children, “frozen shoulder” and sciatica
  • Seven case reports, including treatment of “frozen shoulder”, carpal tunnel syndrome and migraine headaches
  • Two case reports of treatment of Parkinson’s disease
  • A case report of treatment of migraine headaches

What to Expect

Bowen Therapy involves application of gentle pressure to the muscles, tendons and other soft tissues at specific points, and in specific sequence.

Treatments are approximately 30 to 45 minutes long, and performed weekly or bi-weekly for the first four sessions.

Treatment frequency is then individualized to your response to treatment (e.g., if your pain is resolved, but returns after three weeks, treatments will be scheduled at three week intervals).

Improvements in pain levels or function may be experienced after as few as one treatment.

Bowen Therapy at Toronto Centre for Naturopathic Medicine

Bowen Therapy treatments at Toronto Centre for Naturopathic Medicine are performed by Du La, ND and Jonah Lusis, ND, both of who have been certified in Bowen Therapy by the Bowen Therapy Academy of Australia since 2002.

Bowen Therapy treatments provided at Toronto Centre for Naturopathic Medicine are covered by most extended healthcare plans.

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