Bowen Technique for Animals

A reader recently asked me to look into a manipulative technique marketed for both humans and veterinary patients, Bowen Technique. This turned out to be a bit easier than I expected as there are already a couple of excellent evidence-based reviews of the approach available. My own searches of PubMed, the Cochrane Reviews, and other literature resources did not turn up anything not already covered in these reviews, so I will primarily refer to their assessments.

The Second Sight Blog-
Bowen Therapy 1: Introduction
Bowen Therapy 2: Evidence

A Canna’ Change the Laws of Physics
Bowen Therapy and the ASA

What Is It
Apparently, Bowen therapy is the invention of yet another self-taught misunderstood genius, this time in Australia. Tom Bowen invented a technique whereby the therapist gently massages certain key points, which may or may not be associated with acupuncture points (which are themselves likely imaginary), meridians, chakras, and other such mystical energy medicine concepts. This supposedly alerts the brain to the presence of a problem which it somehow did not otherwise know about (despite the pain or other symptoms which brought the patient to the therapist), and the brain then repairs the damage on its own. Apparently, the brain is shy because it is supposedly necessary for the practitioner to leave the room periodically during treatment so the brain has the opportunity to respond to the messages they are sending it.

The review at Second Sight goes into more detail, evaluating the theoretical explanations on the Bowen web site, but the bottom line is that these explanations are vitalistic and pseudoscientific, along the lines of those for other similar energy therapies such as traditional acupuncture, Reiki, healing touch, and so on.

Does It Work?
From the point of view of plausibility, there is no reason to think this therapy is effective. The theoretical explanations for it are inconsistent with established science. And as usual, for the veterinary applications of Bowen Technique, I have not found a single published study of any kind. Unless one exists that I am unaware of, the use of this technique in animals is based solely on anecdotal experience, which is deeply unreliable.

There have been a handful of clinical trials in humans, which the blogs cited above review in detail. My own reading of them agrees with these reviews. Almost all are uncontrolled studies highly subject to bias. If you apply a treatment to a bunch of people and something changes about their health, you can’t simply assume the treatment is the reason. So most of these are useless for establishing safety or efficacy.

There is one controlled trial which evaluate the use of Bowen therapy on healthy volunteers by measuring their hamstring flexibility before and after treatment. The study does show that healthy people will stretch farther after they think they’ve received a treatment to enhance flexibility compared to people who haven’t been given any treatment. This doesn’t really say anything at all about whether Bowen technique has any physiological effects or any benefits in treating disease.

Is It Safe
There is no evidence concerning safety for this method. Some practitioners subscribe to the “healing crisis” notion also found in homeopathy, where patients are expected to get worse as a sign they are responding to treatment, so some negative symptoms have been reported anecdotally after treatment. However, without controls or systematic monitoring, there is no way to know if these experiences have anything to do with the treatment.  Of course, with Bowen therapy as with most unproven and implausible approaches, the risk that comes with applying an ineffective therapy and failing to seek real medical care in a timely fashion must be considered.

Bottom Line
There is no good reason to think this approach works based on the theoretical explanations offered for it, which are unproven and mostly pseudoscientific or vitalistic. There is no evidence for or against it in veterinary species, apart from unreliable anecdotes. There is no controlled clinical research in humans showing a benefit, though uncontrolled trials with high risk of bias appear to show some effects. And there is no evidence concerning the safety of the practice. A classic case of a therapy made up out of thin air by a lone “visionary,” the claims for which must be taken entirely on faith.

This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Bowen Technique for Animals

  1. Julian Baker says:

    You didn’t search PubMed. Lazy blogging does not good subjective scientific assessment make. Must try harder.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21665103

  2. skeptvet says:

    Sadly, you are the one who has been lazy here, since you did not read my post correctly. I not only said that there were no trials for veterinary species, I even discussed the very study you mention. Sloppy criticism of articles you don’t like but haven’t bothered to read accomplishes nothing except making you look foolish.

    “for the veterinary applications of Bowen Technique, I have not found a single published study of any kind. Unless one exists that I am unaware of, the use of this technique in animals is based solely on anecdotal experience, which is deeply unreliable.

    There is one controlled trial which evaluate the use of Bowen therapy on healthy volunteers by measuring their hamstring flexibility before and after treatment. The study does show that healthy people will stretch farther after they think they’ve received a treatment to enhance flexibility compared to people who haven’t been given any treatment. This doesn’t really say anything at all about whether Bowen technique has any physiological effects or any benefits in treating disease.”

  3. pete says:

    My wife recently told me she was thinking of doing vet-nursing and Bowen treatment for animals. I tempered my first response which was something like, “More new-age dolphin friendly anti-rational bollocks, why would you do that?” to a more moderate one…. afterall, It’s probably a good money-spinner. People who are likely to believe in this stuff would also most likely keep coming back for more and be too dumb to realize they’re being ripped off….After-all, Tiddles can’t very well say,” Jeez, don’t take me back to that kook, it hasn’t helped my feline leukemia one bit…” It also neatly sidesteps all the legal issues involved in peddling false hope and treatments to humans…and I thought my Wife was silly…. only impediment I can see is her finding a Vet and a clinic which will employ her and allow her to peddle this dross……

  4. VicK says:

    There’s an article about vet. Bowen techniques in the integrative veterinary care journal. Oh wait, is that considered quack to you too? acupressure points (NOT acupuncture, please get it straight) may not seem real to you, but that makes me wonder, Tcm (which the acupressure points etc is based on) comes from the home of one of oldest human civilization. Before the idea of western and allopathic medicine got to the east, it’s already in existence and treating humans and animals alike. Not all that quack-like, I’d say…

  5. skeptvet says:

    1. Yes, the IVC Journal publishes opinions and case reports, not research, and it only publishes what proponents of alternative therapies already believe. It is a magazine for the faithful, not a scientific journal, so nothing in it has much value for determining if these therapies actually work or not.

    2. The “it’s old so it must be true” argument is a classic logical fallacy, and it is so obviously false it amazes me that intelligent people till buy it. For one thing, in all the ancient civilizations with supposedly sophisticated and effective medical practices, they somehow never managed to reduce infant and maternal mortality or drive average life expectancy much about 40 in thousands of years. Yet science-based evaluation of the natural world has accomplished far more in the last couple of centuries than in all the previous history of human civilization. So how exactly did the old ways get it right and the new ways wrong?

    As for “old is better,” does that apply to all beliefs? Is the world actually flat since that’s what the ancients thought? Is slavery legitimate, because most ancient civilizations practiced it? Should we go back to bloodletting and ritual sacrifice, which were widely accepted as effective practices for centuries? Nonsense.

    Anyway, TCM is a hodgepodge of folk beliefs cobbled together for ideological reasons by Mao and the Communists in the 1950s and 60s, and while elements of it are ancient, the system as a whole is a modern invention. Many of the basic tenets are nearly identical to the humoral system of medicine practiced in the West for thousands of years, which was just as ineffective and ultimately replaced by science-based medicine.

    What you are doing is not presenting any evidence that your beliefs are true, just repeating them an asserting that they must be true because you and other people believe them. Not convincing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.