The Body World


Bodywork, otherwise known as “manual therapies” is a general term that describes a various array of different methods that use palpation to improve sensations in the body.  It is also used to improve awareness of feelings to improve physical functioning.  Bodywork methods are also used to promote relaxation and for pain relief.   This is thought as an important branch of alternative medicine as it emphasizes healing the functioning of a whole person instead of putting the primary focus on a disease.  The main branches of bodywork are osteopathic medicine, massage-related therapy, and movement therapy. 

One of the first forms of bodywork includes the practices of chiropractic and osteopathy.  These two were developed in the United States in the mid- to late nineteenth century as a response to the conventional medical practices at the time.  Many other skeleton manipulation methods were derived from these practices.  From the formation of these variants came a theoretical framework which viewed the human being as a whole.  Mind, body, and spirit are components that helped contributed to the balancing mechanisms that had a capacity for innate healing.  Osteopathy and chiropractic are both popular methods utilized by many primary care physicians to treat a whole host of problems.  The younger variants of both methods are used more to treat specific problems or enhance general physical health and emotional well-being. 

History of Bodywork

Body manipulation for optimal health is a widespread practice that has been practiced all over the world and throughout many ancient civilizations.  Medical historians have reported ancient civilizations such as Egypt have used the technique.  The first recorded history of manipulation takes place in China, where there were methods of bodywork that were developed several thousand years ago to create a complete health care system.  Ancient bodywork methods developed in Asia, which are even practiced today also, had the purpose to palpate and manipulate the physical body to influence the vital life force.   These Eastern philosophies may have been taken into consideration when the principles of chiropractic and osteopathy were developed in the late nineteenth century. 

Hippocrates (c. 430-377 BCE), known to many as the father of modern Western medicine, has been rumored to lecture on how spinal dislocations are the origin of several ailments.  The first recorded history of manipulating the skeleton as way to treat disease and create optimum health began in the United States with the work of Andrew Taylor Still (1838-1917).  Dr. Still rebelled against the accepted medical practices of the day, which involved the heavy use of drugs purging, and bloodletting. In response to these practices, he formulated osteopathy which was gentle, required no drugs, and was non-invasive.  The first osteopathic school was built and established in Kirkville, Missouri in 1892.  Daniel David Palmer (1845-1913), the founder of chiropractic, had no formal training in contrast to Dr. Still.  Despite this, Palmer practiced various forms of energy healing which was popular at the end of the nineteenth century and had a lifelong interest in many unconventional healing techniques.  Chiropractic was formally introduced as a healing modality in 1895. 

Both osteopathy and chiropractic have had a long arduous struggle for acceptance within more established medical practices.  Presently, doctors of osteopathy (D.O.s) and doctors of chiropractic (DCs) can practice anywhere throughout the United States and Canada.  In recent years, several D.O.s and DCs have added their own modification to the century-old healing practices in order to create more personalized approaches to healing the whole person through manipulation.  These new methods include:

  • Craniosacral theory : This focuses primarily on manipulation the bones of the skull
  • Network Chiropractic: This blends Western psychotherapeutic theory with gentle chiropractic techniques.
  • Zero Balancing: This integrates Eastern concepts of energy with skeletal manipulation.

Methodology and Theory

All the methods that comprise the bodywork modality have one thing in common, they all believe in the body’s innate ability to heal itself.  This ability has many names depending on the methods, such as “energy”, “spirit”, or “innate intelligence”.  In Osteopathy, Andrew Taylor Still believed this force was transmitted through the blood.  Daniel David Palmer, in chiropractic, though that this moved through the nervous system.  Both methods, and like every other bodywork modality, were drugless, concentrated on fixing any kind of structural misalignments in the skeleton which allowed the body’s own innate healing and balancing system to work freely. 

Skeletal manipulation practitioners see the relationship between function and structure in the body to be interdependent.  Just like the steel frame on a house supports many systems, our bones provide a supporting framework for all the systems of our body.  If at any point there is a small glitch or collapsing point in the framework, it may be due to some kind of damage to the system.  A problem with a diseased organ is comparable to a leaky pipe, or buckling wallpaper.  On a physiological level, the diseased organ or any muscular pain may appear as misalignments in the skeleton.

In a similar manner, emotional problems from trauma, phobias, or addictions can result in chemical toxicity.  All of these can be due to structural changes in the body.  The structural changes may start a reaction in the interdependent systems of the body, which may stimulate emotional or physical cravings. 

Many bodywork practitioners even extend the holistic believe in the causes and effects of the alteration to every aspect of a person’s life including genetic inheritance, diet, exercise, daily activities, and stress from work and personal relationships.  

What to Expect when Getting Bodywork Methods

Practitioners of bodywork methods rely on the use of their hands, physical contact, and their vast knowledge of anatomy to diagnose the patients.  By touch and physically moving the patient in various ways, the practitioner will feel the alignment of the skeleton and asses the state of the muscular system.  Through these methods, the practitioner will be able to treat a whole host of chronic and acute health problems.

Each of these disciplines has their own standard techniques and variation for manipulating the skeleton.  Here are some of the variations:


Chiropractors solely focus on manipulation of the spine itself.  They see the flow of information from the central nervous system, which is housed inside the spine as the primary self-regulating system of the body.


They focus on the relationship of the bones of the skull to each other to monitor the wavelike flow of cerebrospinal fluid, which is believed to be an indicator of the healthy functioning throughout all of the systems of the body.


This focuses mainly on special joints, also called foundation joints, which are believed to be the primary regulators of energy throughout the body.


Osteopathic physicians may manipulate the spine, the skull, or any other join of the skeleton where they feel has an alignment that is negatively affecting the patient. 

Today most D.O.s and DCs add other treatments to the patient’s plan, such as recommendations of specific exercises, dietary, or lifestyle changes.  In some cases herbal or pharmaceutical remedies are prescribed. 

Popularity of Bodywork Methods

Bodywork methods are reported to help more than 15 million people each year that are suffering from physical and emotional problems.  These patients have found the solution in bodywork ideals when they were unresponsive to the more traditional and conventional Western medical practices.



  1. Bratman, S. The Alternative Medicine Ratings Guide: an expert panel rates the best treatments for over 80 conditions, Prima Health A Division of Prima Publishing (1998)
  2. Brown, L. Alternative Medicine, NTC/Contemporary Publishing (1999)
  3. Deepak Chopra, M.D. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, Celestial Arts (2002)
  4. Nancy Allison. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body-Mind Disciplines, The Rosen Publishing Group (1999)
  5. Servan-Schreiber, D. The Encyclopedia of New Medicine: Conventional & Alternative Medicine For All Ages, Rodale International Limited (2006)

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