Two gentle holistic treatments for your aches and pains. Both claim instant results, but do they work? And what do they involve?*

I’ll admit that I’m naturally sceptical of these types of treatment. Initially brushing them off as hocus-pocus nonsense, it took months of tight hamstrings and random, painful cramping for my wife to finally convince me to book an appointment to see her Therapist Sarah, “The Bowen’s Lady”.

Being holistic treatments both techniques have their similarities. However as I understand, Emmett is focussed on muscle release whereas Bowen’s offers a much broader spectrum of treatment for the entire body. Claiming to help with anything from muscular or skeletal problems, to stress, digestive, or even respiratory issues like hay fever and asthma. My sessions with Sarah seem to involve a mixture of the two.

Keen to learn more about what was actually going on with my body during the treatment (and what effects it might have in the long term) I decided to start doing a little research into them.

First I’m going to briefly look at the treatments as I interpret them, including how they claim to work.

Bowen Technique

Bowen is a simple and non-invasive treatment for physical conditions using a gentle and precise rolling movement over muscle and soft tissue. These movements are designed to release pain and tension and initiate the body’s natural healing abilities. Through treating the cause rather than the symptoms Bowen Therapy is said to have profound and permanent healing and pain relief outcomes even where other treatments have failed.

How Does it Work?

The specific rolling movements over soft-tissue (specifically fascia, a connective tissue organising all nerves, bones, arteries, veins, and muscles by forming a web surrounding them) are followed by short periods of rest. This is to allow the body time to process the treatment. During which you can feel immediate changes and adjustments happening as the fascia influences the body’s neuromuscular physiology.

Emmett Technique

Emmett Technique is a safe and simple muscle release therapy developed by Remedial Therapist Ross Emmett. Primarily used to address pain, discomfort, and improve body movement, it can also help to restore a positive emotional state. Emmett can help enhance other treatments (such as massage, chiropractic, or physiotherapy), or as an effective therapy on its own.

How Does It Work?

If we imagine the body as an electrical circuit, muscles that are overworked or overloaded have ‘tripped out’ and require resetting. The treatment involves the application of light finger pressure at specific points on the body. This unlocks muscle memory, allowing the brain to reset the position of the muscle to its natural and correct state.

These are not the same as traditional trigger points, acupressure points, or any other points described in any other therapy. The pressure required to stimulate the Emmett points does not need to be firm or painful.

“No pain no gain” has no place in Emmett Technique philosophy.
save that for the bike.

As with Bowen’s the effect is instantaneous and in many cases you can feel or even see your body shift and re-align as the therapist is working. It’s a very strange feeling the first time you experience it.

Good To Know

While I’ve found little research to validate the science of these treatments, a paper published in J Altern Complement Med. in 2011 states that over half of the studies they assessed reported that Bowenwork was effective for pain reduction, and an extra third reported improved mobility.

In addition, several studies described the effectiveness of Bowenwork on the relief of symptoms experienced by persons living with a chronic illness, such as multiple sclerosis.

Studies were only included if (1) they referenced the original Bowenwork, (2) provided health-related outcomes, and (3) provided quantitative or qualitative data. Excluded articles included testimonials, duplicates, unrelated topics, literature reviews, articles lacking verifiable sources, and studies from proprietary resources.

How Long Does a Session Last?

For both types of treatment a typical session will last anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour.

What Should I Wear To A Treatment?

Both treatments can be performed through light clothing (although some Therapists may prefer to work directly on skin).

Where Can I Get Treatment?

If you live in Lancashire I highly recommend Sarah Newton at The Bowen Clinic. There’s plenty of information on finding a Therapist on the Bowen website.

How Much Does It Cost?

With Sarah a session will cost £38. I would guess you will typically pay anywhere from £20-£50 depending on the Therapist and length of treatment.

How Often Should You Have Bowen or Emmett Treatments?

It largely depends on the symptoms. For one-off injuries you may only need three sessions, with roughly a week in between. As I am training and constantly pushing my body and muscles at their limit I have a session every 3 to 4 weeks.

Post Treatment

I was advised not to do any strenuous exercise for about 24 hours, but a gentle walk in the evening will ‘help process the changes made during the session’.

My Personal Experience

When I first walked into her clinic Sarah and I stood talking for a couple of minutes. I was instantly made to feel welcome and comfortable as she took a real interest in the problems I was having (also asking me a little about my background) where I mentioned being a competitive cyclist and a designer who sits in a chair for ten hours a day.

As we stood chatting she was discreetly observing me with extreme detail. How I stood, my posture, how I walked, and even how I sat down or stood up. Carefully assessing what treatments would be beneficial to me.

I told Sarah about my tight hamstrings, and also mentioned a knee injury I was recovering from. Reassuring me those were issues she could help resolve, it turned out she had already picked up on a number of other things too. Things I had lived with for so long I didn’t even think to mention.

The main target areas from Sarah’s assessment were:

  • Tight Hamstring.
  • A knee injury caused by IT band.
  • Twisted pelvis causing my right shoulder to protrude slightly in front.
  • Left ankle underpronation.

That’s impressive stuff. I had only been in the clinic for five minutes and already had somewhat of an epiphany:

When riding my bike fast – getting low on the bars in a Sphinx position or on the drops – my right hand always sits further towards the front of the bike than my left… and I do seem to sit ever-so-slightly twisted in the saddle!

I was getting excited. Would she really be able to poke away my aches and pains? Or straighten me out? And how will it all affect my riding? If this works, It’ll be like getting an unfair advantage over everyone else.

The Sphinx position

Diagnosis complete, this first session was largely focussed on straightening me out before doing any specific work. As some of my other complains (such as the sore knee and hamstrings) probably stem from my posture when riding.

Most of the treatment I was lying on my back while Sarah performed very slight brushes and rolls on various parts of my body. At first I just lay there wondering what – if anything – I should be feeling? But it didn’t take for a few subtle signs to emerge, becoming increasingly apparent as we progressed. My belly began to rumble (which apparently is very common), my legs turned inwards a little, my feet straightened out slightly at the ankle, it was surreal.

The most profound change was during one of the short periods where I was standing. Sarah was working on my legs, although I’m fairly sure she was applying pressure to my lower back and somewhere around my belly button. A moment later; my knee’s bend slightly, I shift backwards, and how I’m standing is suddenly entirely different. I feel straighter, more upright, that’s when I really thought “Christ, what’s going on here?!”

A moment later; my knee’s bend slightly, I shift backwards, and how I’m standing is suddenly entirely different. I feel straighter, more upright, that’s when I really thought “Christ, what’s going on here?!”

Sometimes the effects were delayed. Almost as if I was sub-consciously resisting, perhaps trying to disprove the treatment. The sceptic in me creeping out? Sarah would just watch patiently, with a small smile as subtle as the treatment itself, waiting for the telltale sign she knew would take place. Her smile widening as a leg twitched or a shoulder dropped. “see, it isn’t nonsense”.

I’ve come to realise this is part of what makes her a great Therapist. You can see it in her face that helping you – and seeing your reaction to her movements – gives her extreme pleasure. She wants to help. And it’s impossible not to soak up some of that positive energy while you’re there.

Towards the end of the treatment, satisfied with how my body was responding she spent a little time releasing my IT band and hamstrings, and I must admit I’ve not suffered since.

I was convinced enough to book myself in for another session in a few weeks time, and have been going regularly (with a gentle push from the wife) ever since.

Final Thoughts

One thing I’m wary of with these treatments concerns ‘resetting’ my leg muscles. If they really do reset muscle memory what affect does that have on my pedalling technique? The act of pedalling is everything to do with muscle memory.

When I wrote about riding in bad weather I mentioned that in one ride I might turn the pedals upwards of 17,000 times.

I wonder: How is resetting the muscle memory in my legs every three weeks affecting my pedalling technique?

Sometimes I feel a lot more conscious of what I’m doing while pedalling than I used to. And it isn’t always positive, but we all have our off days and I can’t definitely say it is even anything to do with being treated. It’s just an idea.

On a certain level I still remain sceptic. Why don’t the effects of the treatment last? Why do the muscles go back to their old, wrong ways if they are so wrong? How can a few pokes here and there alter my body so drastically? Is my muscle memory really being reset, or is it just the power of suggestion?

An answer to some of these questions has been offered with a simple hair analogy:
If you part your hair in the same way for years, try brushing it in the opposite direction. It won’t want to stay there, will it? Keep brushing it that way though and eventually it will stick. It’s the same with muscle memory and that’s why we fall back into our old habits. Some of which have been with us since birth! How can you expect to make a permanent change in a half hour session?

And the other’s are likely raised through a lack of understanding so I intend to quiz Sarah a little further on our next visit to try and get some more insight.

What I know for sure is that I no longer suffer at all from tight hamstrings or my knee injury. That during my treatment I am relaxed to the point where I’ve fallen asleep. That I leave my treatments feeling better, and the next day I sit on my bike a little straighter, and I pedal a little differently.

These treatments were something I had to actually do before I could see the benefit for myself. If like me you’re a suffering sceptic who hasn’t yet found the fix… just give it a go. Go in with an open mind, and take in the complete experience.

What have you got to lose?

*I have sent an email to Sarah with some questions I have about long-term affects, and what different types of treatment she has performed on me. I will update the article as and when I learn more. For now, I’ve tried to take an objective approach where possible, but in describing my own personal experience I may have strayed somewhat!