A European study published in June took a look at the value of shiatsu in improving overall health and well-being. The researchers found this hands-on modality contributed to the general promotion of good health among clients.

The study, “The potential of complementary and alternative medicine in promoting well-being and critical health literacy: a prospective, observational study of shiatsu,” was based on postal questionnaires completed by 633 shiatsu clients and 85 practitioners across three European countries: Spain, Austria and the United Kingdom.

Subjects were recruited to participate in the study by shiatsu therapists from each of these three countries. All clients were age 18 or older and seeking shiatsu for a wide array of reasons. The shiatsu sessions were tailored to meet the specific needs of each client and administered by a shiatsu practitioner in his or her practice space.

Self-administered postal questionnaires were used to gather data at four points during the study: baseline, or immediately after the first shiatsu session; four to six days after this initial appointment; and three and six months after the appointment.

For the clients, the questionnaires focused on such topics as what clients hoped to get from having shiatsu; features of the client-practitioner relationship; advice-giving during the session; changes made as a result of having shiatsu; and the areas of change, if any, such as diet, exercise, rest and relaxation.

The practitioner postal questionnaire was completed toward the end of the study, with the aim of discovering how the individuals practiced shiatsu. Questions included whether they commonly gave advice to clients and, if so, in what ways.

Results of the practitioner questionnaires showed they all routinely gave advice, where appropriate, regarding exercise, diet, lifestyle habits, posture or how to use one’s body.

As for the client questionnaires, they revealed that the main reason most sought shiatsu was “to maintain or improve their health.” About three-quarters of the respondents reported they received self-care advice or recommendations from their shiatsu practitioner. This advice was perceived as relevant by 99 percent of clients surveyed.

On the six-month follow-up survey, roughly four-fifths of the clients reported making lifestyle changes as a result of receiving the shiatsu session. Most common among the changes was increasing rest and relaxation, as well as exercise.

“Examining these findings from a health literacy perspective suggests a valuable role for shiatsu in promoting healthier behaviors,” state the study’s authors. “At a basic, functional level, developing awareness and knowledge arose within advice-giving (diet, exercise, how to use your body and self-care) occurring in the baseline treatment session.”

Author: Andrew F. Long

Sources: University of Leeds School of Healthcare, United Kingdom. Originally published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine (June 18, 2009) 9:19.