This is a question many of my clients ask, maybe not right away but usually it will come up. That’s fine, that’s how it should be. After all, bodywork costs money. And besides, you would at least want to know you weren’t taking a risk by choosing massage or Bowen instead of some other therapy.
Unfortunately, no one, certainly no therapist, can give an unambiguous yes/no type answer to this question.
But this evidence is not bullet-proof. Nothing much is in this area of health care. The treatment of muscular aches and pains, for example, is surprisingly under-researched, especially if you exclude that into drugs to supress pain or inflammation.
Partly this is because it’s hard to clearly define what the problem is that a particular therapy is supposed to be treating. “Back pain” for instance can mean many different things and can arise for many different reasons. Similarly, it is extremely difficult to standardise treatments, especially in bodywork. The way one person does massage or Bowen therapy (or for that matter chiropractic or physiotherapy or acupuncture) could be quite different from someone else.
Apart from these methodological problems there is not a lot of money around to conduct research into bodywork. Big, well designed studies into cancer or heart disease are often paid for by drug companies who have a clear financial interest and potential benefit. The same level of investment is just not there for therapies which treat everyday aches and pains. As a result, research into massage or Bowen Therapy or other forms of bodywork tends to be small scale and is often criticised for being insufficiently rigorous.
The bottom line: you can’t rely on research to decide whether massage or Bowen Therapy will help you. What we do know is that there is very little evidence that either of these therapies will cause you any harm if applied properly.
So, in the absence of more and better research, how can you decide who to go to when you have what seems to be musculoskeletal problem? Well, a good place to start is your GP who can at least rule out a serious underlying disorder. From there, if you decide you wish to go down the complementary therapy route it is often preferable to look for a good therapist as much as a particular modality. Someone who is both honest and modest about what he/she can do for you, who listens attentively, who is willing to discuss the basis of their work and the research which supports it – in short someone with whom you can build a trusting therapeutic relationship.
It also helps if your therapist is a member of a recognised professional association or is on an official register like the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council in England as this is a guarantee that they have recognised training qualifications and have agreed to abide by industry standards.