My first introduction to Bowen Therapy was through a work colleague who had multiple sclerosis.
I’d had a minor car accident, resulting in an aching neck from whiplash that doctors weren’t interested in.
Seeing me in pain, my colleague suggested I give Bowen Therapy a try.
She had multiple sclerosis. And while she was still in early stages, the Bowen was helping give relief to the various symptoms she was experiencing.
And since becoming a Bowen Therapist myself, I’ve seen again how Bowen can help people with multiple sclerosis.
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What is multiple sclerosis ?
Multiple Sclerosis (or MS for short) is a condition impacting the body’s central nervous system.
Multiple means “many”, and sclerosis is from Greek meaning “scars”. So, multiple sclerosis involves numerous scars or lesions. With multiple sclerosis these lesions form within the nervous system.
Nerve fibres in the nervous system normally transmit messages throughout the body, to and from the brain. The nerve fibres are wrapped in a fatty sheath called myelin, which insulates the nerve fibres, allowing signals to pass without interference. With multiple sclerosis this myelin sheath is damaged or destroyed, interfering with or blocking nerve impulses between the brain and spinal cord.
It is widely believed to be an auto-immune disease. In a properly functioning immune system, harmful viruses or cells are identified and removed. With multiple sclerosis, the immune system’s defensive cells attack the myelin sheath in mistake. Inflammation occurs when the immune system continues to attack and damage one area. Inflammation may result in an MS relapse (also known as an attack).
Cause and Risk factors ?
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic condition that has no known cause and no known cure.
There are over 2.5 million people globally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and over 23,000 in Australia. Multiple sclerosis can impact people of all ages, but most are diagnosed between ages 20-40. 75% of those with multiple sclerosis are women.
Interestingly, it “is five times more common in temperate climates than in the tropics”. The further from the equator, the more common is multiple sclerosis. In Australia, multiple sclerosis is more prevalent in Tasmania than in Queensland.
While multiple sclerosis is not hereditary, an increased risk has been seen with having a immediate relative with multiple sclerosis.
Many potential causes have been proposed and evaluated – viral links, physical or emotional stress, smoking, vaccines, toxins and solvents, diet – but most have shown no association or no clear evidence to link a cause.
What does Multiple Sclerosis look and feel like ?
Multiple sclerosis impacts different people in different ways, and the impact on a person can also change over time.
This interference of nerve signals between brain and spine can result in a variety of symptoms. No two people experience multiple sclerosis in the same way. Symptoms felt depend on where on the brain and spinal cord the lesions develop.
While the list of possible symptoms is long, MS Australia has summarised them to 5 main areas:
Muscle problems and motor control
The disruption of nerve signals can result in weakened muscles, especially arms and legs. This weakness impacts coordination, balance and functioning of the arms and legs. Muscle pain and lower back pain is often experienced as a result. Muscular spasms and tremors may also be experienced.
One of the most common symptoms experienced, and one that often has a large impact on the person. Fatigue is said to be a major cause of leaving the workforce, with strategies often required to enable many to go about each day.
Other neurological symptoms
Some may experience vertigo, pins and needles, neuralgia and visual disturbances.
Bladder issues such as incontinence, inability to empty the bladder completely, and/or reduced bladder capacity are common symptoms. Constipation is also somewhat common, sometimes as the result of medications.
Memory loss can occur, with many struggling with the ability to concentrate. Changes in mood and emotion are also common – related to both nerve damage and in dealing with the challenges that MS presents.
With such variability of symptoms in individuals, knowing how the disease would progress is difficult. Symptoms may appear mild in early days, however as time goes on symptoms may become increasingly severe. There are four main courses that the disease has been seen to take:
Relapse-Remitting MS – partial or total remission after an attack or relapse. Remissions may last for months or years, while symptoms may worsen with each relapse, or new symptoms appear. Most people with MS initially begin on this course.
Secondary Progressive MS – attacks and partial recoveries continue to occur. Relapses become steadily progressive and are often superimposed. More than half of those who start with Relapse-Remitting MS will develop Secondary Progressive within 10years.
Primary Progressive MS – onset is slow and symptoms steadily worsen. With a distinct lack of attacks, so symptoms tend not to remit. About 15% of those diagnosed have this form.
Progressive Relapsing MS – progressive from onset, there are clear acute relapses. Periods between relapses have continued disease progression.
Treatment for those with Multiple Sclerosis
Various treatment options are used to help those with multiple sclerosis, that help:
- reduce the risk of relapses and slow progression of the disease
- manage specific symptoms, especially during a relapse
- improve and enhance life, to overcome limitations
The overall course of treatment depends on the person’s type of multiple sclerosis, and the symptoms they present.
Disease modifying therapies aim to reduce the risk of relapses, and slow disease progression. These generally take the form of injected or tablet medication to reduce disease activity in the central nervous system. There are many types available, and more are being researched.
Acute relapses sometimes rely on the use of steroid medication to control the severity of an attack, easing inflammation at the sites affected. These treat only those symptoms, helping to ease the symptoms and reduce the length of a relapse. It does not treat the disease itself.
Thanks to increased awareness and support for research, new treatment methods are continuing to be developed and trialled.
Treatment for specific symptoms experienced can help during both a relapse, and to help improve quality of life during periods of remission. A combination of medication (where appropriate), conventional treatments and complementary therapies can often work together to best help ease symptoms.
Bowen Therapy is a very gentle form of bodywork. Small, gentle, precise moves are made on muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves, triggering the body to begin a healing process.
The entire body is influenced during a Bowen treatment, through restoring balance in the autonomic nervous system. The Bowen moves prompt a shift from the stressed, sympathetic “fight or flight” mode, to parasympathetic “rest and repair” dominance.
Bowen moves impact the body in a number of ways. Nerve receptors activated during treatment act to calm the body and mind, and facilitate the body’s ability to heal. There is a clear influence of Bowen moves along the body’s fascia lines – supporting muscle coordination, postural alignment, and overall structural and functional integrity. Bowen moves also impact the lymphatic system, providing support to the body’s immune system.
The treatment initiates relaxation during the session, and changes that continue in the body for up to a week.
Bowen Therapy to support Multiple Sclerosis
Bowen Therapy can complement conventional treatment to support many symptoms experienced with multiple sclerosis. It may also complement some disease modifying treatments, helping people prepare for and recover from some therapies.
Pain, muscle problems and motor control
While medication may support a number of muscle problems such as stiffness and tremors, physiotherapy also helps with exercises to help muscle weakness, coordination and balance.
Bowen also help muscles through influencing the fascia, helping to body stay in balance, supporting posture, gait, and muscular aches and pains. Read how Bowen helps lower back pain, lumbar pain, and neck/shoulder pain.
Bowen Therapy may also help through reducing tremors (read how Bowen helps essential tremor).
Bowen Therapy has a history of helping fatigue-related disorders, helping bring the body into balance. Taking the body from stressed fight/flight mode to rest/digest helps the body relax and function. As the body sleeps and functions more efficiently, many feel improved energy and an ability to cope with doing tasks.
Other neurological symptoms
Many neurological symptoms can be supported by Bowen Therapy, through it’s impact on nerve receptors in the fascia, and the calming influence of the nervous system.
Bowen has helped clients with vertigo (read here about vertigo and Meniere’s disease) and skin sensations (such as pins and needles, or numbness).
A recent non-MS client seeing me for back pain, also complained of sensations in fingertips. It felt like glass shards were constantly being pushed into the fingers – doctors were unable to diagnose or help, but the Bowen treatments significantly reduced the pain in the fingers (as a lovely holistic side-effect of the back treatment)
Bladder and bowel problems are often treated through diet, medication, continence aids or special exercises. However, Bowen therapy can also support bowel, and bladder and incontinence issues.
Helping calm the body, sometimes in conjunction with specific moves, has had numerous clients comment how a simple Bowen treatment has resulted in “evacuation” within a couple of hours of treatment, as well as improved ongoing bowel function.
Bowen also supports bladder issues. Taking the body out of stress, and supporting the kidney, bladder and pelvic area has seen continence improvements in many.
Depression, anxiety and stress can be supported by Bowen Therapy, in conjunction with counselling or other traditional support. Bowen provides gentle physical support to give a more upright posture, support the body to allow improved breathing, and allow the body to calm, moving toward a more parasympathetic state.
Complement to Disease Modifying Treatment medication
Bowen therapy may also help the body when taking disease modifying treatment, helping to calm the nervous system and support the immune system.
A client was preparing to begin Lemtrada treatment just over a year ago. This treatment requires 2 courses of treatment for 5 days, a year apart. In the lead up to the first course, the client had 3-4 weekly Bowen sessions – recovery after the treatment was much faster than expected. In the lead up to the second course, there was only one Bowen treatment a few weeks before – recovery after the Lemtrada was much slower, with fatigue playing a major part. A couple of Bowen sessions helped the client to regain energy and reduce muscular aches.
Despite the wide variety of symptoms that those with multiple sclerosis experience, I have found commonalities in those I have met – resilience and a positive attitude.
The best resource I found during my research of multiple sclerosis is the booklet issued by the MS Australia, providing far more detail than the summary here.
Pictures – title picture of 3d reconstruction of neurons (photo credit: ZEISS Microscopy via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND), and neuron (Actam – Image:Neuron.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4293768)