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Bodywork and Manual Therapy - Topic Overview

What are bodywork and manual therapy?

Bodywork and manual therapy are general terms that refer to body manipulation therapies used for relaxation and pain relief. Massage is a well-known form of manual therapy.

The idea behind bodywork is that people learn—or are forced by injury or stress into—unnatural ways of moving or holding their bodies. This causes discomfort and may contribute to health problems.

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The aim of bodywork is to realign and reposition the body to allow natural, graceful movement. Bodywork, along with identifying possible contributing causes of unnatural movement and posture, is thought to reduce stress and ease pain.

Some of the most common forms of bodywork are:

  • The Alexander technique, which focuses on proper alignment of the head, neck, and trunk. It emphasizes improving health by increasing awareness of proper posture.
  • The Feldenkrais method, a gentle form of bodywork that increases flexibility and coordination. Feldenkrais exercises are intended to help increase a person's awareness of body movement and develop new patterns of movement.
  • The Trager approach, which people use to help relearn natural movements and exercises so their bodies can function better. Practitioners teach gentle, rhythmic motions to improve flexibility and promote relaxation (called psychophysical integration) and dancelike exercises to increase awareness of body movement (called Mentastics).
  • Deep tissue massage, which attempts to treat chronic tension in deep muscles of the body. Deep tissue massage is thought to relieve pain and increase flexibility.
  • Rolfing, a form of deep tissue massage that practitioners use to realign the tissues that cover and connect all muscles and body organs (fascia). Bringing the body back into proper alignment is thought to reduce pain, improve flexibility and energy, and reduce muscle tension.
  • Dance/movement therapy, which has many of the same characteristics as the types of bodywork described above with the addition of creative and expressive art elements.

What is bodywork used for?

People may use bodywork to promote relaxation, relieve stress, and reduce pain associated with certain disorders of the muscles and joints, such as arthritis and fibromyalgia.

Is bodywork safe?

Bodywork can be a safe form of therapy when a qualified and experienced practitioner performs it. Its effectiveness is not scientifically proven. Talk with your doctor before you start any bodywork program, so you can choose the most appropriate form of bodywork for your specific condition.

Many states license practitioners who provide bodywork therapies. Your doctor or local hospital may be able to help you find a qualified bodywork practitioner.

Always tell your doctor if you are using an alternative therapy or if you are thinking about combining an alternative therapy with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on an alternative therapy.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: March 12, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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