McKeithan Pain Treatment Center
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
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Bowen Therapy


Bowen Therapy -- A Basis for Understanding This Alternative Treatment for Permanent Pain Relief       
Bowen Therapy is promulgated under the names Bowtech, Neurostructural Integration Technique, and Neural Touchtm, with each promulgator, including me, adding his interpolation and insights to what he understands  as Bowen's original work.   See the links below for client-shared examples of how well the technique works, a short history of Bowen Therapy by Tom Bowen's own daughters, and further useful information.

    What follows is a very long and very thorough exploration of the whys and wherefores of Bowen Therapy.  We dont tell you how to do it, but we do discuss in some detail the body systems in which it operates, with explanation about the systemic changes it brings about.  If youre in pain, you might consider calling us right now at 336-761-0501 for a treatment, rather than spending time reading this and then calling.  You dont need to know all this for it to work.

    Weve included this information for you if really want to know what it does and how it works.  Portions of the following have been adapted from an article previously published in Natural Triad Magazine.

         As you will see, there are differing theories abroad concerning how Bowen Therapy works.   Though there are many systems involved see Gene Dobkins piece at the end of this article we find that the tissue known as fascia, organized into the fascial network, which is actually a body system in its own right, offers the most cogent explanation of the mediator of musculo-skeletal pain, therefore is the system which is most effectively manipulated by Bowen Therapy to resolve that pain.
       

Fascial Tissue, the Mediator


    Fascial tissue (fascia) is generally referred to as connective tissue, implying that, in fact, it connects.  Well, It does that, but it does a great deal more than that.  First, writing in his book Anatomy Trains, Thomas Myers refers to three nets: neural  (nerves), fluid, including vascular (blood) lymphatic and cerebrospinal (food,  for spinal nerve roots), and fibrous, which is to say, the fascial network.  He writes:

The bald statement is that, like the neural and vascular webs, the fascial web so permeates the body as to be part of the immediate environment of every cell.  Without its support, the brain [for example] would be runny custard, the liver would spread through the abdominal cavity, and we would end up as a puddle at our own feet.

    So, fascial tissue is not just a substance hanging out in the plantar surface (sole) of the foot, waiting to plague us when we do something wrong. It forms a complex network that infuses the entire body, including, as Myers pointed out, the organs.  It is made up of collagen fibers and a host of other components, such as lymphocytes, mast cells and eosinophils (wonderful name, that), to name a few.  It is electro-chemical in nature, which is important for the healing of muscle/fascial pain.  More about this later.

O.K., So Whats It Do?

    As Myers has written, it holds some body parts together, so that they retain a particular shape.  It also connects, as weve mentioned. But in addition were tempted to say beyond those functions it infuses muscles, tendon and ligament tissues, where its job is to communicate, or mediate among all the different parts of a muscle and all the other muscles of the body, with all of their aggregate parts.  In their groundbreaking book,  The Endless Web, decades of research led Shultz and Feitis to conclude:

The muscle-bone concept presented in standard anatomical description gives a purely mechanical model of movement.  It separates movement into discrete functions, failing to give a picture of the seamless integration seen in a living body.  When one part moves, the body as a whole responds.  Functionally, the only tissue that can mediate such responsiveness is the connective tissue

In other words, when you lean forward while standing to pick up a pencil, its the fascial network that enables you to do so without falling on your nose.  Hows that work?  Lets take a look.

First, Exactly Where Is This Network in the Body?

    Weve said that the network infuses the whole body, but since the subject is plantar fasciitis, well confine this discussion to tissues of movement muscles, tendons and ligaments, because it is within this subset of fascia that plantar fasciitis occurs.  It is also from within this same subset that permanent relief from the pain can occur from within the body, not from invasive outside intervention by knives, needles, medication or even massage.

      But first, a little clarity:  muscles move the body by bringing one attachment point (bone) closer or farther away from another attachment point.  Often they morph into tendons in order to attach to bone.  Bones are held together at joints by ligaments.   Muscles are made up of fibers (and a lot more, but fibers are as small as were going, right now), that are grouped into bundles, which are in turn grouped into larger bundles bundles of bundles, if you will.  These bundles of bundles grouped together form the muscle belly.  When a muscle works, the bundles of fibers contract lengthwise shorten -- which draws the attachments towards one another, thus moving whatever body part is involved.  Now stop and consider, for a moment, how is it that each of those muscle fibers knows just how far to contract?  Muscles arent just on or off, you know.  There are degrees of contraction, and those degrees are mediated within the muscle.

       Then consider, how is it that while Im bending over at the waist from a standing position, intent on picking up a pencil, my hamstrings (back of thigh) and posterior calf muscles are elongating, my quadriceps (front of thigh) are contracting just the right amount, with my anterior calf muscles doing the same, and it all happens in a flow and co-ordination such that, when I reach out with my arm another whole dance involving muscles in the shoulders, arms, hands and fingers, with thousands of individual fibers now involved I actually pull it off I pick up the pencil without falling over?

      Its plain that something besides nerve impulses is orchestrating all of this, and that each and every fiber, in each of those bundles, is in communication with all of the fibers, not only in that individual muscle, but in the contiguous muscles above and below, and by extension to every other muscle in the body.   By now you know the answer.  The fascial network is busy transmitting a continuing stream of data among all its constituents, so that purposeful, directed movement can successfully take place.  But where is it?  Where is the fascial tissue itself?  Lets return to the muscle fibers in their bundles.

     

extensor_muscle In figure one on the left, I'm holding a loose mockup of a muscle -- perhaps one of the extensor muscles of the forearm beneath it.  Each of the orange cords (yes, they're bungee cords) represent muscle fibers.  The black elongated ovals represent the cells that actually make up the fibers. For this first photo, there's no representation of fascial tissue except on the ends of the fibers, where the  ends are wrapped with clear tape to prevent fraying.
Figure 1
muscle fibers In this figure (2), the muscle is shown in a partially cut-away view.  On the upper side of the muscle are two strands of fiber stripped free of the surrounding fascia.  Below it is a larger bundle of fibers.  This is actually a bundle of bundles, one of which has been extended on the far left.  [My apologies for the labeling in the photo.  We'll work on it.]
The clear, reflective tape surrounding the bundle is, again, fascia.  Incidentally, there are many names for these wrappings epimysium, perimysium and endomysium, for example --- but theyre all connective tissue, or fascia.

Figure 2
muscle fiber bundle Here you see clearly how fascia infuses the muscle tissue, and by extension, the entire body.  The black and white fibers inside the orange wrapper represent the actual muscle fibers themselves, while the orange is the fascial tissue surrounding each fiber and the clear tape represents the fascia that surrounds -- indeed creates -- each bundle of fibers and the muscle as a whole.
Figure 3


       Now imagine that both the muscle fibers and the fascial tissue transform, at either end of the muscle, into tendon - another form of fascial tissue -- attaches to bone.  Each muscle, with its infusion of fascial tissue, is connected either by bone or other muscle to muscles above and below it.  Sometimes this takes the form of a large number of muscles connected together through a massive sheet of fascia.  Examples are the Galea aponeurotica on the top of the skull, which directly interconnects a large number of neck, facial and jaw muscles.  Another is the thorocolumabar fascia that interconnects gluteal and spinal muscles.

      Through these tissues, or pathways, flows the information that allows each fiber to relate dynamically  to the other fibers in its bundle and its muscle and simultaneously  to all the other fibers in all the other muscles in the body.  The distinction between dynamic and static is important:  when the body is moving, all relationships of all fibers are shifting all of the time. A static picture of the body, made up of isolated parts such as feet, or elbows, is false and misleading.

      Moshe Feldenkrais coined the term acture4 or posture-in-action, to describe the way all the muscles of the body relate to one-another while moving.  It describes a bodys usual way of moving all its constituent parts to accomplish a purpose, whether its as simple as rolling over in our sleep, or swinging a golf club.

      Weve said earlier that fascia has electro-chemical properties.  It is those properties that the ice/heat cycle often used to treat fasciitis (fascial inflammation) affects.  Over many applications, the state of the  fascial tissue changes many times, creating a kind of wave response.  This can, over a long and painful period of time, reduce the inflammation, which causes the pain to resolve.  But it can only do so when the entire network of fascial tissue is addressed, preferably by intent, otherwise the condition that caused the problem in the first place will very likely cause it to return.    Bowen therapy, variously known as Neural Touch, Botech, Neurostructural Integration Technique, Therapy 360 (ours, which utilizes all three, plus other modalities as needed) does exactly that.  

      Bowens technique involves signaling the fascial tissue to actuate a state change, from gel relatively hard to sol which is relatively soft.  It addresses the fascias electro-chemical properties with gentle movement, rather than temperature variation.  Thus the Bowen move initiates a wave change in the fibers, bundles and whole muscles that have either received trauma or are having to compensate for muscles that are traumatized. The practitioner addresses all of the components of the muscular network in order to correct both the underlying cause and the compensatory over-extensions.  For example, a very frequent cause of plantar (sole of the foot) fasciitis pain is a pelvis which is twisted on the femur (thigh bone).  Actually, the twist will affect both thighs, thus one leg will become functionally longer, the other, functionally shorter, (functionally, because the bones havent changed length, but the effect on the body of is of one short leg, one long leg).  As a result, all of the muscles of the body must adjust their acture to compensate for this imbalance.  This new relationship becomes habitual the body resists correcting it, because it is the right relationship.  Thus, as with plantar fasciitis, for example, addressing only the fascia of the plantar surface of the foot is either totally fruitless, or takes a very, very long time while the body grudgingly makes its own adjustments. Bowen therapy  addresses the entire network and its compensatory adjustments, working to correct all of them, or, more correctly, to directly facilitate the body in making its own corrections, in the order and in the timing that is optimal.  This yields a permanent correction.

    


1 ____, Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh, 2001
2 Ibid, p.25
3 R. Louis Schultz, Rosemary Feitis, Diana Sallas, The Endless Web, North Atlantic Books; 1955:vii.
4 Feldenkrais, M. The Potent Self.  San Francisco: Harper Collins; 1992
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    Another Take

  Gene Dobkin, a longtime instructor in all three variations (Neural Touchtm is his), offers his very lucid explanation:

"[How Bowen Therapy Works] .. is certainly the question of the hour. The actual mechanism is not yet completely understood. It certainly has a lot to do with spinal reflexes. Neural Touch stimulations affect the muscle stretch and golgi tendon reflexes as well as joint proprioceptors in unique and paradoxical ways. This has the effect of reprogramming tension levels in the effected areas of the body. (This is analogous to rebooting a computer without saving the currently running application.) Tension and inflammation can be lifesaving at the time of an injury but too often they persist long enough to become the problem in themselves. Reverting to an older, happier template at this point is quite appropriate. Though the results are often immediate, they are just as likely to unfold slowly over a period of 7-10 days following a session. People feel new changes and improvements every day.

"Neural Touch can be considered the "homeopathy" of bodywork. The sicker the patient, the less is done during a session. The more gentle the application, the deeper the result. Perhaps, as with homeopathy, the Neural Touch practitioner is introducing a microscopic irritant into the tissues. When alerted to this, the nervous system reflexively responds, coincidentally reorganizing deeper long-standing conditions.

"Also similarly to homeopathy Neural Touch can sometimes be "antidoted". A strong and therapeutic application of massage, heat or ice soon after a treatment can muddy much of the healing response. If the irritant has been soothed away, there's no longer any compulsion to reorganize.

"'Beauty is only skin deep,' goes the old expression. in a technical, therapeutic sense this is true. The beauty -- the elegant, intelligent, self-correcting mechanism -- of the body can usually be accessed and stimulated by probing no deeper than the skin and superficial fascia. The fascial matrix is an amazing phase-change material (a process called thixotrophy) that can be coaxed to its more liquid, flexible state through gentle, appropriate contact.

"Fascia also acts as a liquid crystal (think of digital watches and laptop screens). Local stimulation has a far-reaching, electro-chemical ripple effect through the surrounding tissues in all directions. In fact the only thing that prevents one such ripple from coursing through the whole body is that it encounters new blockages, constrictions, etc. These blockages become the focus for new stimulations (defining the most common treatment patterns) and the process continues.

"Neural Touch strongly affects the autonomic nervous system, (the sympathetic branch of this prepares us for "fight or flight" while the parasympathetic is more associated with healing, relaxation and meditative states). During a session people will often experience a mixed response while the two systems mesh and recalibrate. The resulting surge of parasympathetic energy can, in and of itself, account for much of the healing response we get. The fear that Wilhelm Reich described as saturating the tissues is alleviated, letting the natural restorative processes take over."

---Gene Dobkin, from his website www.usbowen.com.  Used by permission.

 

 
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