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Visceral Manipulation: Creating Mobility and Tone In the Organs

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.

Organs that move and glide freely function better. Plus, the function of the system the organ is part of improves, giving the whole body better structural integrity.

Visceral Manipulation on the abdomen

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 a little of the theory.

Your body can maintain harmony and health only when free and open movement exists between your organs and their connective tissues. Ideally, 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, injury, 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, visceral manipulation techniques use three osteopathic methods: functional methods, recoil, and induction.

Encouraging Normal Movement

The goal of a practitioner is to encourage normal mobility, tone, and movement of your internal organs and their connective tissues. First, therapists 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.

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Photo Credit: 123rf / Karel Joseph Noppe Brooks