The Benefits of Visceral Manipulation
Updated: Oct 8, 2022
Do you have chronic lower back, neck or even upper/lower extremity pain? You probably never guessed that your internal organs and the related fascia could be part of the problem.
Yes, it's true! Organs or viscera need to be able to slide, glide and move 3-dimensionally as you move. Tension patterns can form through these fascial networks deep within the body, creating a cascade of effects far from their sources for which the body will have to compensate. Strains in the connective tissue of the viscera can result from surgical scars, adhesions, illness, posture and injury.
What is Visceral Manipulation and How did it Begin?
Visceral Manipulation or VM is a gentle manual therapy that aids your bodies ability to release restrictions and unhealthy compensations that cause pain and dysfunction. The focus of VM is not solely on the site of pain or dysfunction, but evaluates the entire body to find the source of the problem. VM was developed by Jean-Pierre Barral, an Osteopath and Physical Therapist from France He became interested in the effect of organs on biomechanics of living subjects while studying strain patterns in the tissue of cadavers while working at a Lung and Disease Hospital in Grenoble, France. Jean-Pierre Barral began teaching VM coursework in the United States in 1985.
How do Organs Contribute to Pain and Movement Dysfunction?
We are used to the idea that spinal dysfunctions can produce organ dysfunction by altering the flow of messages to nerves in the organs. Jean-Pierre Barral has demonstrated that this flow of information is a 2-way street, with organ problems profoundly affecting the spine and it's ability to freely move. Organs systems are connected to the spine via their support membranes. Tension in these support structures can pull the spine out of alignment. Although these fascial membrane support structures are richly innervated in other ways, very few pain receptors are present. In addition, these visceral support structures are limited in their ability to send proprioceptive information and do not provide our brains with messages about their position in space. Therefore, we are not aware of the problem until the musculoskeletal system becomes involved.
Real Life Examples...
The heart is enclosed in a pericardial membrane which attaches to the sternum in the front and the C4-T4 vertebrae in the back. In a whiplash injury, the heart, a dense organ, is suddenly accelerated, injuring it's suspensory ligaments. Over the next few weeks, these ligaments heal but can become fibrosed, eventually putting tension on the lower thoracic and cervical spine. While direct, hands on treatment to the cervical and thoracic spine and musculature can provide short term relief, often the underlying mechanical restrictions in the visceral structures prevent the injury from fully resolving.
Pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses can leave contractures in the pleural membranes surrounding the lungs. These pleural membranes are suspended by a complex series of attachments to the cervical spine at the uppermost part. In addition, these tensions also can affect the scalene muscles (muscles in the neck) in a way that can compress the brachial plexus (nerves from the neck to the arms) and the vasculature (blood vessels). With this in mind, we can begin to understand why history of severe respiratory illness is a known risk factor for carpal tunnel syndrome as well as upper extremity repetitive stress injury.
The Emotional Factor
It is well documented that our emotions have a great impact on how our bodies function, greatly due to how receptive organs are to our feelings. Different emotions affect different organs. When the brain receives negative emotions it sends tension to the related organ, the organ then sends tension back to the brain resulting in a feedback loop. For example, when someone experiences anxiety, they can have the visceral sensation of "butterflies in the tummy." Alternatively, a physically damaged or imbalanced organ can stimulate emotional reactions.
This mechanism is primarily mediated by the Vagus Nerve whereby 80% of the connections bring information from the organs to the brain. Visceral mobilization can change this cycle, enhance the health of the organ and restore emotional balance.
Reach out to Resonance Physical Therapy to find out more or to book a session to see if Visceral Manipulation could benefit you.