A little note about a lesser known but equally bonkers form of woo.
I saw a little advert today in my local freebie paper about the “Bowen technique”, apparently being able to help with (amongst other things) Asthma and Migraines. Being an inquisitive sort, I did a bit of digging…
|names etc removed to protect the innocent quacks
It looks like a bog standard little ad – note the rather insidious “suitable for all ages from newborn.”
The European College of Bowen Studies provides most of the information below.
From the description, Bowen looks like a very low impact massage-like technique.
However, obviously there is more to it than that:
The technique involves the therapist using fingers or thumbs to move over muscle, ligament tendon and fascia in various parts of the body.
A look at the video shows how very low impact this is – it really looks more like the “laying on of hands” than anything else. Of the 5 peer reviewed pubications about BT, only 4 relate to the efficacy of the technique, and those are all arm-wavey non/poorly-controlled subjective pilot studies from which no reliable conclusions can be drawn.
I was particularly interested in the claim that BT can alleviate asthma symptoms – being mildly asthmatic myself, and having a son who suffers (from time-to-time) with severe asthma attacks.
In the risable “research” section of the website, there is a page about Asthma – it contains an article reprinted from the Times which looks more like an advert than a serious peice of journalism. The major woo is centred around the assertion that “The body knows how not to have asthma, so you just need to find ways to help it not to be triggered to have an asthma response.” Okaaaaaaay.
Tacked on the end of the article is what looks like a bit of legal back-covering:
Bowen practitioners do not claim to cure asthma
Well – good – becuase AFAIK, no-one claims to be able to cure asthma. But:
it can be very effective in managing the condition. Many patients, particularly children, report that they found relief with the technique.
O rly? That looks a little dangerous to me. The back-covering addendum also helpfully states that the National Asthma Campaign advises ” patients to consult their GPs beforehand and always to continue to take their medication”. Which is of course completely contrary to the pro-bowen anecdote/article above.
They finish with a flourish:
It is gaining acceptance, not through a scientific understanding, but because some doctors and physiotherapists find it helps patients
…nice… a quick “appeal to ignorance” caveat and a nice little:
CAN BOWEN BE EXPLAINED BY SCIENCE?
The basic idea of drawing the brain’s attention to a problem then allowing the body to heal itself does not fit in with a conventional view of physiology. It’s likely that working with a kindly, interested therapist will make anyone feel better, but it’s harder to explain the reported emergency asthma treatment and frozen shoulder studies in this way.
Basically… NO, it’s placebo innit.
The article is reckless and dangerous. The addendum probably just about saves it from being actionable under ASA guidlines. Cajoling asthma sufferers to leave steroid inhalers at home, and rely on an unproven “emergency move, which involves pushing your thumb into the soft stomach area” really is very irresponsible. If you have asthma, or have witnessed a full-on asthma attack – it’s really quite scary stuff.
In an asthma attack the most important thing is getting medical attention and getting your airways open again – this is done by steroid inhaler or nebuliser or a dose of oral steroids – not by pushing your thumb into your tummy. The lack of prominence of the real medical evidence in this page looks awfully like a crude attempt to down-play the fact that BT does not work for Asthma, but hey “we’ll take your money off you if you fancy someone miming some sort of intervention.”
Avoid at all costs.