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  • Phil Steward

The Art of a Bowen Therapist


The aim of the therapist is a simple one, to make you better, to help you out of pain and regain function.  How is this done? Firstly we, employ a screening protocol to look at your body and thus understand where the primary restriction is within your body. This is the restiction within your body’s tissue that is having the biggest effect on your body… From this primary restriction numerous compensation patterns occur, these patterns are usually the ones that cause you the pain and primary offen remains “hidden”.

Please see diagram, this is to illiastrate how a “hidden primary” leads to pain in different areas.

This “client” presents with lower back pain and sciatia in the right leg, and also mentions that his left shoulder is hurting.

However, the primary dysfunction on this example is on the left hand side of the neck this causes a dural drag through out the body

So if the therapist works on the localised pain in the back and in the shoulder, you may get some short term relief. However, a long term solution will not reached untill the primary dysfunction is resolved.

When practiced efficiently, this approach allows the Bowen therapist to optimise the function of the Central Nervous System (CNS) through a simple process of locating and correcting relevant spinal dysfunctions (the ‘locating’ is carried out using holistic assessment  and screening methods and the correction is achieved with regular Bowen Therapy).  In this way, the Bowen Technique may be used to correct significant spinal, pelvic and cranial dysfunction.

Importantly, the same holistic assessment methods can be re-employed post-treatment to verify that a particular treatment was successful.


The Vertebral Subluxation

According to the World Health Organization, a vertebral subluxation is “A lesion or dysfunction in a joint or motion segment in which alignment, movement integrity and/or physiological function are altered, although contact between joint surfaces remains intact.  It is essentially a functional entity which influences biomechanical and neural integrity”.

As Bowen therapists, we can simply view the vertebral subluxation as a dysfunctional joint associated with disturbance of the nervous system.

The Dural Drag

From a chiropractic perspective, the vertebral subluxation is a significant entity, mainly because it shares a reciprocal relationship with irritation of the nervous system.

On the one hand, the vertebral subluxation may result from irritation within the CNS.  In this situation, the CNS irritation disturbs the alignment, movement and function of the spinal segment.  On the other hand, biomechanical issues may give rise to the vertebral subluxation, which will then cause irritation of the CNS.

In either case, there is an irritation of the “dura mater”, the outer meningeal layer which encases the CNS.  One of the consequences of such irritation is that increased tension is generated in the muscles on one side of the body.  This condition of unilateral abnormal tension may be described as a “dural drag” and is evidenced by the presence of a functional short leg.  The important thing for the Bowen therapist to remember is that the side of dural drag (the tight side) is the side of the functional short leg.


The Sustaining Muscle Spasm

As Bowen therapists we direct our treatment interventions at resolving abnormal muscle tensions in the body. Specifically determined which muscle tensions needed therapeutic input in order to restore body function. When it comes to restoring function it is important to recognise that some muscle tensions are more significant than others.

As we have just noted, the vertebral subluxation produces a disturbance in some parts of the CNS which then results in a tension state that we have called the dural drag.  The asymmetry observed with the dural drag (the functional short leg) is best viewed as a secondary tension since it is a tension state that results from the subluxation.  From a Bowen therapy perspective, certain specific and localised muscle tensions may generate and/or sustain  the vertebral subluxation.  These are the muscle tensions which we shall consider to be primary in nature and it is these localised muscle tensions that require the full attention of the Bowen therapist.  Graham Pennington coined the term “sustaining muscle spasm” (SMS) to describe the particular point of spasm or tension that acts to “hold” the spinal subluxation in place, thus helping to sustain functional asymmetry and the short leg.

The chiropractor attempts to restore function and symmetry by directly influencing the spine and its segments. It should be noted that the Bowen therapist achieves these goals by locating and resolving the sustaining muscle spasm.  The overall result of each therapy is to manifest a state of structural integrity of the spine (and other joints) and thereby facilitate optimum function of the central nervous system so that healing and regulation may result.


The Cycle of Disturbance from the perspective of a Bowen therapist

As practitioners of Bowen therapy, our interventions are aimed at clearing the sustaining muscle spasm/tension from the area of subluxation.  Practice demonstrates that this results in a clearing of the subluxation and of the dural drag.  This suggests that the subluxation cannot be sustained without ongoing tension/spasm to maintain it.  On a simplified level, the Bowen therapist might view the cycle of disturbance like this:

Specific, localised muscle spasm or tension is associated with the formation of the vertebral subluxation. Such spasm/tension acts to “hold” the subluxation in place.  This particular tension or spasm is termed the sustaining muscle spasm (SMS).The resulting vertebral subluxation gives rise to a secondary state of tension, called the dural drag.  This dural drag is an expression of functional asymmetry and it can be observed and measured using various assessment methods.The dural drag will resolve when the Bowen therapist has found and then effectively released the SMS.  Reassessment of the patient will demonstrate that the dural drag has cleared and the subluxation has resolved.The resolution of the subluxation leaves the CNS in a state where function is no longer compromised.  At this juncture, the body is free to activate its innate regulating and healing mechanisms in order to restore function.

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