Bodywork is an umbrella term that encompasses dozens of fields of study, modalities, and concepts related to massage, touch therapy, and spa services. Considered an alternative medicine, bodywork can mean anything related to therapy or self-help that focuses on physical healing, movement, or general wellness. Not all forms of bodywork involve touch; some treatments might use water instead of physical contact or address the body-mind connection using the body’s energy field.
You might have also heard bodywork referred to as complementary therapies, alternative medicine, or integrative healing arts. The term bodywork can be used interchangeably with massage, however, and bodywork practitioners can generally be assumed to primarily performs massage therapy or a closely related touch therapy. Whereas many, but not all, touch modalities may require clients to be unclothed and lie on a massage table, those that are not touch-based can happen with the client clothed and seated, standing, or in motion.
Healing with Bodywork
Though many types of bodywork are considered spa services and may fall into the category of pampering or self-indulgence, research supports any type of bodywork for healing purposes. Bodywork can address almost any imaginable health or medical issue that does not require emergency medical care and is used to help treat ailments from chronic back pain, to cancer, to Alzheimer’s in addition to mental health conditions.
Bodywork treatments may offer benefits above and beyond the initial reason a client sought them. For instance, a person may begin Rolfing sessions for rehabilitation after an injury and find the experience also helps ease symptoms of depression that linger due to the psychological impact of the injury.
Bodywork can alleviate stress and anxiety by decreasing cortisol levels and increasing serotonin and dopamine in the body. The sensation of physical contact, too, has been shown to have numerous health benefits. Infants who receive massage, or even light therapeutic touch, demonstrate an improvement in both physical and psychological development over infants who do not receive intentional therapeutic touch.
Bodywork modalities that do not involve physical contact, such as reiki, generally draw on Eastern philosophies, such as the Chinese concept of qi (chi), manipulating the body’s energy flow for optimal health and wellness. These therapies may aim to flush toxins from the body, release emotional blockages, or increase energy circulation for greater vitality.
Types of Bodywork Treatments
As more evidence emerges to support bodywork as a treatment method for health issues, specific types of therapies have evolved to better address those conditions. For example, while massage has been used for centuries to ease back pain, the Alexander Technique, developed in the early 1900s, incorporates body movement into touch therapy and directly affects flexibility and functioning of the spine. Newer treatments like this often draw on ancient bodywork practices and may combine Eastern and Western healing methods to create variations on existing treatments.
More alternative therapies that fall under the umbrella of bodywork include, but are not limited to:
- Polarity therapy
- Trigger point therapy
- Craniosacral therapy
- Jin Shin Do
- Bowen technique
- Nuat Thai
- Lymphatic drainage
Some of these treatments are variations on traditional massage, while others are distinct disciplines in themselves. All are considered bodywork based on the idea that they use touch or intention to address pain, health issues, imbalance, or psychological concerns by manipulating various elements of the body–muscles, joints, lymph, skin, or energy.
Bodywork practitioners are likely to be credentialed massage therapists first, who have also received training and, in some cases, additional certification to practice more specific types of bodywork. Exceptions may include reiki practitioners, who are not required to attend massage school, chiropractors who also choose to practice a supportive bodywork modality, or other medical professionals who have received the necessary training to practice a type of bodywork.
Contraindications of Receiving Bodywork
When considering bodywork, do research about the type of treatment you would like to receive or the treatments that are recommended for a health issue you’re experiencing. If at all possible, talk to your primary health care provider about whether bodywork is right for you and your health. Always select a professional who is properly trained and credentialed not only as a massage therapist, but also as a practitioner of any additional bodywork modalities.
Some barriers to receiving bodywork include surface wounds, heart conditions, circulation problems, inflammatory conditions, and immune problems. These problems don’t necessarily rule out every type of bodywork modality, however. Many therapies can work around even serious health conditions, and treatments that don’t rely on physical contact may be a more suitable choice depending on the issues experienced.
With so many available treatment options to choose from, there is likely a type of bodywork for everyone. Whether you’re hoping to reduce pain, increase mobility, or simply live better, consider contacting a bodywork practitioner near you to explore options and determine what therapies may be right for you.
- Allison, N. (1999). The illustrated encyclopedia of body-mind disciplines, 204-206. New York City, NY: Rosen Publishing Group.
- Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., Diego, M., Schanberg, S., & Kuhn, C. (2005). Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy. International Journal of Neuroscience, 115(10), 1397-1413. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00207450590956459
- Field, T. (1995). Massage therapy for infants and children. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 16(2), 105-111. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/jrnldbp/abstract/1995/04000/massage_therapy_for_infants_and_children.8.aspx
- Ruan, M., & Lai, R. (2009). Effect of hydrotherapy with massage on the growth and development of newborns. China Medical Herald, 8, 016. Retrieved from http://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTOTAL-YYCY200908016.htm