Visceral Manipulation: Creating Mobility and Tone In the Organs

Visceral Manipulation Book

Practitioners trained in visceral manipulation use their hands to create very gentle forces to encourage the organs (viscera) and surrounding connective tissues to move normally and have optimal tone.

Encouraging each organ to move and glide freely helps improve the organ's function, the function of the system of which the organ is part, and the structural integrity of the whole body.

Background and Theory Of Visceral Manipulation

French osteopath and physiotherapist Jean Pierre Barral developed this gentle manipulation of the viscera based on his observations and experience working with patients. Here's just a little of the theory.

Your body can maintain harmony and health only when there's free and open movement between your organs and their connective tissues. Optimally, the relationship between your organs and your muscles, membranes, fascia, and bones remains the same even as your body moves. 

But an organ can become stuck due to poor tone, adhesions (stuck-together tissue), or displacement caused by surgery, scars, trauma, and stress. A stuck organ no longer moves in harmony with its surroundings. Fixed points of tension can develop and your body must compensate, usually in unhealthy ways. For example, because support membranes connect most organs to the spine, organ dysfunction can cause spinal problems. The body's compensation causes chronic irritation that can lead to pain, inflammation, disease, or other dysfunction.

Technically, this manipulation technique uses three osteopathic methods: functional methods, recoil, and induction, as described in an article by practitioner Jeffrey Burch in the Summer 2003 issue of Massage Therapy Journal.

Encouraging Normal Movement

To encourage normal mobility, tone, and movement of the internal organs and their connective tissues, therapists first listen with their hands to determine the location of restrictions. Then, either with you sitting, standing, or lying down, therapists use their hands to locate the ligaments of a restricted organ. Use of a very gentle pressure encourages those ligaments to release tension, returning the organ to a more balanced position.

You may feel sensations of pressure, movement, and release. Occasionally, you many experience a brief mild discomfort, usually just before a release. When a release happens, you usually feel more relaxed, alive, and spacious in the area being treated.

After a session, you may feel like taking a nap or you may feel more energetic. You may immediately feel less pain or improved function, or you may notice gradual improvement over the next few days.

For more information about this technique, visit The Barral Institute, which provides continuing education and certification for massage therapists, Rolfers, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, and other healthcare practitioners. Or see Visceral Manipulation by Barral.

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