Why visceral manipulation?

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A person in white attire leaps joyfully above a vast, mirror-like salt flat, reflecting the brilliant blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds and distant mountains.

Visceral manipulation addresses the soft tissues of the viscera, also known as the internal organs of the body, including the brain, liver, heart, lungs, intestines, bladder and many others. The viscera are key to our survival and basic functioning. Due to their soft and fluid nature, the viscera are much more sensitive to traumatic forces than the muscles and bones. Our brain is great at recruiting neighboring muscles to hug and protect a struggling blood vessel, nerve or organ. If treatment of the muscular system is temporary at best, or exacerbates things at worst, it may be time to look deeper.

Visceral manipulation is a gentle hands on technique developed by Jean Pierre Barral, a French Osteopath and Physiotherapist. This approach targets the connective tissues around the organs inside the skull, rib cage, abdominal and pelvic cavities. This connective tissues is called fascia give that it surrounds and supports all structures in our body, including our organs. It is the fascia that connects our organs to each other, and to the bones of our spine, ribs and pelvis and even to certain deep postural muscles. When the muscles are active and moving the bones, the organs need to be able to move to accommodate this movement.

Causes of Restriction

There are the three main causes of restriction of the fascia around the organs:

  1. Physical impact
  2. Surgeries
  3. Infections

Physical trauma

Physical trauma comes in the form of a physical impact anywhere on the body. These very common impacts result from falls, blows to the body, sporting injuries, motor vehicle accidents and repetitive strain injuries. Many of these impacts result in whiplash injuries – more on this in future articles.

Surgery

The most relevant surgeries are abdominal, thoracic and pelvic surgeries. Even with the best surgeons and best technology any surgical procedure produces adhesions. Good technology and surgery can minimize these adhesions while complications such as infections requiring washouts, antibiotics, revision surgeries will result in more adhesion of the soft tissues. Approximately nine soft tissue layers are cut through to enter the body and although some layers are stitched, unfortunately each delicate layer is not able to be stitched or otherwise returned to its previous form. This results in a potential sticking point as the body moves each day.

Infection

Infections change the inherent quality of the affected tissues. Infected soft tissues become inflamed initially, changing how they move. Once the infection is resolved the affected tissues tend to harden slightly making it harder for them to slide and glide across neighboring tissues.

Visceral manipulation sessions last anywhere from 30-60 minutes and are often spaced out by 2-3 weeks at the beginning and up to 6-8 weeks apart later on in treatment.

The viscera and its fascial system moving well allows us to move well and with less compensation. Just as we want our joints to move through full range, our muscles to be strong and our nerves to slide and glide, the fascia around the organs must also be healthy and mobile.