Relieve Childhood Asthma with The Bowen Technique
Relieve Childhood Asthma with Bowen Therapy
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Working with Asthma in Children


Nurse to Nurse article 2005
Written by Alastair Rattray.   Published on 10 June 2009.

How effective is the Bowen Technique on Childhood Asthma? A question often asked. However, after treating over 200 children with asthma,some in foreign countries by e-mail, Alastair Rattray has ample experience to share his observations.

How effective is the Bowen Technique on Childhood Asthma?

On the day that six year old Olivia had her first Bowen treatment, she was just starting yet another cold and was wheezing quite audibly, with her shoulders heaving up and down as she tried to breathe. She could usually only manage about two day's worth at school a week and visits to family or friends could only last about an hour before Olivia needed to get home. If she tried to run, she would need her Ventolin inhaler after about 20 yards. She loved singing with her sister, but could only manage a few words before needing to take a breath. Her mother had read an article about the effects of the Bowen Technique on childhood asthma and decided to call and ask for help. Frequent colds and chest infections were normal parts of Olivia's life since she was a baby.

Olivia's life changed immediately after her first Bowen treatment in December 2003. The wheezing had stopped by the end of the treatment, yet it had only consisted of a few gentle moves on her back and chest, lasting a few minutes. The following day, Olivia ran home from school and has not stopped running since. The cold she was starting on that first day, stopped immediately and she has not had a single chest infection since. On Christmas Day 2003, her mother wrote "I had to note all this because previously I would not have opted to go out, especially for a day, as this would have been a worse case scenario for Olivia's health and my stress levels. What actually happened was so rare, I had to note it down. Olivia was just one of four very happy, very healthy, excited children today. No pump, no allergic reactions, no need for Mum to act like a neurotic nurse! Lovely day, a mini miracle!" This was after just 2 treatments. Ventolin is now very rarely needed . Singing is no longer a difficulty and she also attends school normally now, like any other child.

The Bowen Childhood Asthma Project started in late 1999 after treament to a two year old who was having frequent asthma attacks and had reacted badly to an increase in her steroids. The amazing result of that first treatment so startled Alastair Rattray, a Bowen therapist and teacher, that he decided to investigate further to see whether the treatment had been a "lucky chance" or was more fundamental in its outcome. With over 100 cases being personally managed and treated since then, there is no doubt that, in the majority of cases, children respond very quickly, often with dramatic results.

So, what is the Bowen Technique? It is a gentle therapy developed by Australian Tom Bowen in the '50s and '60s as a muscular skeletal therapy. Although he never advertised, by 1974 it was estimated he was treating 13,000 patients a year. His fame spread because he was so often successful where others had failed and usually fixed the problem in two or three treatments. Tom's technique was to make fairly gentle moves over the edge of muscles or tendons, but in specific parts of the body, and would then leave the room for several minutes to allow the body to re-adjust itself. In this way he was able to treat three patients at the same time. Tom's wife was a serious asthmatic, so he developed a procedure to treat her. Often hospitalised with major attacks in the past, she was never to be hospitalised again. Bowen is non-invasive and therapists can treat a wide range of conditions safely. Asthma is just one condition which has produced such outstanding results.

A number of cases illustrate how effective the Bowen Technique can be. A 14 month old boy had been coughing continuously for nearly six months. He was waking up five times a night and, being more and more frightened by his difficulty in breathing, was inceasingly holding onto his mother for up to half an hour each time. He had been prescribed Ventolin, which had made no difference, so the specialists planned to give him Becotide, starting in 3 weeks time. His mother was exhausted, and additionally was seven months pregnant and feared for the future. Finding the website, , she rang for an urgent appointment. He was wheezing and constantly coughing when he arrived. The treatment, because of his very young age, took less than a minute to administer. By the time he got home, the wheezing had stopped. That night he again woke five times, but was far less distressed. By the third night he slept all the way through and the constant coughing had stopped. The parents decided to delay the use of steroids and, as he has been fine for over a year now, regard him as a normal, healthy child.

It is difficult to estimate the number of school days lost each year though asthma attacks as no such statistics are gathered. However, if, on average, every child lost up to 5-10 days of schooling a year though asthma attacks and associated illnesses,( frequent colds and some chest infections are common in children), then there are possibly up to 5-10 million lost school days a year in the UK, just through asthma and similar respiratory conditions. What has been very noticeable in the Bowen Child Asthma project is that frequent absence from school is totally eliminated in many cases. A good example of this was Jason, aged 13, whose attendance at school, because of his frequent asthma attacks and associated illness, was only 77%. He was totally transformed by his first treatment. He had been needing his Ventolin frequently and was sometimes using it 5 times a night. After his first treatment, he stopped using Ventolin altogether. In the next two terms he was away from school for only 3 days. In the Autumn, usually his worst time, he caught a virus and was most unwell, yet only missed school for two days. His mother said that a year before, he would have been ill for at least three if not four weeks. She was so impressed with what she saw that she immediately trained in the Bowen Technique.

Perhaps the most difficult types of cases are the ones where there is a strong reaction to many different allergens, such as many foods, colourings, animals, grass, pollen of various sorts as well as illness of any sort. Five year old Susannah who reacted badly to a wide range of allergens frequently missed school through illness and would have an asthma attack if she went away from home even for only one night. She could also have an incident if she visited the woods for any length of time. Her mother was a trained nurse who was meticulous in administering the prescribed drugs and in preparing all her foods. Susannah was on Beclomethasone (a steroid) twice a day, and Ventolin as needed. Asthma attacks were frequent with a number of admissions to Hospital being needed. As the situation was becoming more worrying, the family asked for her to have Bowen therapy to see whether that might help stop the decline in her health.

Before the first treatment could be given, Susannah suffered a major asthma attack having caught a virus from her brother who was also an asthmatic. Her mother summarised the development of the attack as follows:

" Susannah had had 3 days of oral Prednisolone ( a powerful steroid) prior to admission for wheezing. On the early morning of the 4th day, she was admitted into Hospital via ambulance for a severe asthma attack. She worsened on admission and did not respond to oral steroids and nebulizers (Atrovent and Salbutamol). Intravenous steroids were then given without effect. An infusion of Aminophylline(a bronchodilator) was commenced along with intravenous fluids and potassium; nebulizers continued. After 48 hours she began to improve. She had a temperature on admission which worsened and persisted. Antibiotics were administered for one week."

When Susannah received a Bowen treatment for the first time on 10 March 2004, some 12 days after the attack, she looked a very sick child with dark rings under her eyes. She was still wheezing with a little "grunt" at the end of each breath. Her mother was, naturally, very anxious and worried as to whether there could be any sort of reaction to the treatment. She was reassured that we did very little. Susannah was still in such a delicate state that anything could have induced a further attack. Treatment was very simple, lasting perhaps 5 minutes at most. When she got off the couch, the wheezing and "grunt" had stopped, and the grunt has never returned. Her mother was shown how to administer the Bowen Emergency Move just below the breast bone (very gently) should she become wheezy or have another asthma attack.

In week 4 of the Bowen treatments, Susannah's mother reported the following:
" I have noticed some significant changes relating to Susannah's long standing asthma this week. On Friday (2 April 2004) she awoke with a cold. Prior to this she had had no wheezing or temperature, both of which she normally exhibits prior to any episode of ill health. During Friday night, she coughed continuously for just under 2 hours. It is unprecedented for her not to have developed asthma under these circumstances. During the next 24 hours, she continued to cough in varying degrees. It is now 4.00pm on Sunday 4 April 2004 and she has not, so far, had an asthma attack associated with this cold." (Note: Nor did one develop. This is a very common "fingerprint" of Bowen, even after only one treatment in many cases).

Just over two months after the attack, her mother wrote the following summary on 5 May 2004:
" I have noticed some considerable change in Susannah over the last 2/3 weeks. She has not had a day off sick from school for some time. On 24 April (end of week 8) we went to a wedding. It was a long day and the reception was on a farm; the meal was in a marquee. These are all normally things that would result in wheezing at least, an asthma attack at worst. Susannah was fine until about 7.30pm - much longer than she would normally have coped with in such a situation. I could hear a small squeaking in her breathing at 7.30pm and took her home. She had a settled night. This is also significant - normally she would have been coughing and unsettled.

After this tiring weekend with a lot of travelling and change of place to stay, she then did a full week at school with no problems (she had a Bowen treatment on the Wednesday of that week). The following weekend (end of week 9), she went to ballet on Saturday morning and a party on Saturday afternoon where everyone was smoking. On Sunday, she had a very long day spent outside in damp conditions with a high pollen count. She was running around, playing on the trampoline and very excited. The following day (week 10) we were out for the whole day in a high pollen count in damp weather. Yesterday, she attended a full day at school with no problem.

The above illustrates an unprecedented lifestyle for Susannah. Any one of the days mentioned would have resulted in an exacerbation of her asthma and time off school. To have had several days of the type mentioned in close proximity has not been possible for her in her life so far. The fact that, as yet, she has had no adverse reaction to her activities over the last 3 weeks leads me to the conclusion that Bowen has benefited her enormously. It is particularly significant that she has coped as well as she has following the worst asthmatic episode of her life so far." Susannah has continued to have Bowen treatment from time to time, as needed, over the past year. She reacted to building dust during the summer, just when she was doing so well. However, Bowen was again used and settled the situation for her and one year on from her major attack, she is doing many things she had been unable to do before.

Exercise can induce an asthma episode which usually lasts a short time. However, it can also be a prelude to a catastrophic attack. A year or so ago, a 12 year old playing rugby, came off the pitch with an asthma attack from which he did not recover. Neither Ventolin nor Becotide would have been of much use in such a situation. However, the Bowen "Asthma Emergency Move" (illustrated?) has been successfully used in such a crisis on a number of occasions and can also be used in panic attacks. All asthmatics and parents are shown how to do this simple procedure in case it should ever be needed. This gives parents a wonderful boost of confidence that, should a serious attack suddenly develop, they have something they can do while awaiting help to arrive. This move can also be used gently before resorting to Ventolin once an asthmatic begins to feel the chest tighten up. Most find their use of Ventolin reducing to almost nil. Some, like Jason, have gone from using Ventolin up to 5 times a day to maybe using it once every few months. In an emergency, an experienced physiotherapist used the Emergency Bowen move to regain control of a major viral croup attack. By the time the paramedics arrived the situation was under control. As she said at the time, "I didn't have anything else I could have done. It worked really well". Recently a mother also reported that her son, running along, was suddenly having great difficulty breathing. She used the move, which she had only learnt the previous weekend, and it worked immediately.

As asthma nurses and physiotherapists, as well as doctors, have shown great interest in the use of Bowen to treat children with asthma, a one day course has now been developed by the European College of Bowen Studies (ECBS) which will train them in treating children up to 14 years old with a basic asthma set of procedures. As the procedures are non-invasive and are in no way manipulative, they are completely safe to use. The British Thoracic Society, in developing their 4 Step Plan for doctors to follow in the treatment of children with asthma, emphasise that treatment should start at the lowest possible level. Bowen must be considered even lower than their first step where steroids are used, yet the results we are seeing from the first Bowen treatments are usually immediate and often dramatic. Few treatments are usually needed before the situation changes. Often children who usually suffer frequent colds, and chest infections and coughs, will change completely from the very first treatment. Their next cold is usually a "normal" one.

Some children do not respond so readily, but they are in a small minority. Experience has shown that these have other conditions associated with them and need the greater attention of the asthma nurse and specialist. Bowen will give these professionals more time to look after these cases. A four year old responded well to Bowen whenever she started an asthma attack or a cough. However, two days later she would be admitted to hospital with pneumonia. What was eventually found was that she had a well-known condition which is now being treated and that she had probably been suffering from pneumonia all the time. One lobe had collapsed and become plugged. Once cleared, she has improved greatly. Her asthma had nevertheless improved despite these problems.

Adults often respond equally well to Bowen with some outstanding results. One example was of a 27 years old lady who had suffered from asthma since a young child. She was on daily Becotide and used Ventolin frequently each day. When she first started work, she could only manage part time because of her condition. Now managing two busy shops with considerable stress involved, she was using Ventolin all the time to cope with the day. Additionally she had frequent migraines and suffered from hayfever. Reading of the childhood project in an article in the Times newspaper, she asked for help. It took no more than three treatments to transform her life. She no longer has need of Ventolin, nor does she suffer migraines any more. She feels she is also coping with the stress very much better, (another Bowen fingerprint). Her hayfever, for which Bowen has an excellent record of helping, as well as other sinus problems, is now under control. Her doctor, who had treated her since she was a small child, rang to ask why she had not called for her usual prescription and was startled to find she no longer needed it.

The Bowen Technique has totally transformed the lives of many children and adults suffering from asthma and other respiratory conditions, as well as hayfever and sinusitis. But it goes much further than that. The whole family is blighted by these conditions and it is the family which benefits as well when the situation changes so easily. The Bowen Technique is used to treat a very wide range of conditions easily, but it is the respiratory conditions where we often see dramatic changes which have such a significant, long term effect on people's lives.

Alastair Rattray qualified with the Football Association Treatment of Injury Certificate in 1972 and is secretary and a member of the FA Medical Society (SE) and an Associate member of the Royal Society of Medicine. He was Club Physio to semi-professional club Chesham United for 10 years. He has been practising the Bowen Technique since 1997. He practises both near Tonbridge, and in London. He teaches the Bowen Technique in London and the South East for the European College of Bowen Studies. He can be contacted via email at or on 01892.547.703. His website is The European College of Bowen Studies 01373.461.873

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