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What is Visceral Manipulation?

Last week, we welcomed new physiotherapist Nikki Oxford to Victory, and talked a little about what she’s been doing up to now, and a little about her favourite skills and techniques.  We’ve received quite a few questions about one of her techniques, Visceral Manipulation – so here’s Nikki to explain what it’s all about.

What is Visceral Manipulation?

Developed by world-renowned French osteopath and physiotherapist Jean-Pierre Barral, Visceral Manipulation helps to re-balance dysfunctions in the musculoskeletal, vascular, nervous, urogenital, respiratory, digestive and lymphatic systems. It evaluates and treats the movement and posture of organs, membranes, fascia and ligaments; and it increases proprioceptive communication within the body, thereby helping to reduce pain, dysfunction, and poor posture.

One of the things I look at when I assess a patient is the relationships between their viscera (organs such as gut, liver, kidneys, heart, lungs and spleen), and their attachments to the musculoskeletal system. Surgical scars, adhesions, illness, posture or injury can cause areas of tension in the tissues surrounding the viscera, potentially creating a cascade of fixed, abnormal points of tension that the body has to try to move around and compensate for, eventually causing functional and structural problems.

For example, as I have experienced, an adhesion around the lungs (from a a cracked rib and bad chest infection) has altered the way my ribs move as I breathe and when I rotate, restricting the movement of my upper back.  As I take numerous/thousands of breaths per day, it quickly led to dysfunctions in my neck and pelvis. Over time,this has caused altered forces throughout my body as I have compensated.

How Does Visceral Manipulation Help?

I use Visceral Manipulation alongside other techniques to encourage your own natural mechanisms to improve the functioning of your organs, dissipate the negative effects of stress, enhance mobility of the musculoskeletal system through the connective tissue attachments, and influence general metabolism.

There are links between structures, such as the muscles and joints, an the nervous system, the visceral organs, the spinal cord and the brain.

For example, the nerves that innervate the spinal discs connect with the spinal cord and then to the brain. These then in turn connect to the nerves innervating the visceral organs. So, if a person has chronic pain their nerves can be affected not only in the immediate area of pain (in their joints, muscles and fascia and discs) but it can also link to their visceral organs and their connective tissues (including the liver, stomach, gallbladder, intestines and adrenal glands), the peripheral nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system and even the spinal cord and brain.

Visceral Manipulation relies on feeling and connecting with the normal and abnormal forces within the body. By using specific techniques, we can evaluate how abnormal forces interplay, overlap and affect the normal body forces at work. My goal is to help the body’s normal forces and try to remove abnormal effects, whatever their sources. Those effects can be global, encompassing many areas of bodily function not only in your region of pain or dysfunction.

How is Visceral Manipulation Performed?

Very gently!  It’s my job to place my hands gently on very specific places, to encourage the normal mobility, tone and motion of the viscera and their surrounding connective tissues. These gentle manipulations can help to improve the functioning of individual organs, the systems the organs function within, and the structural integrity of the entire body.

Your body is happiest when the organs with their connective tissue can move normally and freely – not too much or too little movement, and no conflict with neighbouring structures and their mobility. So when I look at your visceral system, I’ll be assessing your tissues for their quality of movement as well as their quantity.

How Did Visceral Manipulation Begin?

Jean-Pierre Barral first became interested in biomechanics while working as a physio at the Lung Disease Hospital in Grenoble, where he met Professor Georges Arnaud, a specialist in lung diseases and dissection. Working with Arnaud, Barral followed patterns of stress in the tissues of cadavers and studied biomechanics in living subjects. This led him to explore the visceral system and its potential to promote lines of tension within the body.

Later, working as an osteopath, he had an unusual session with a patient who explained that his back pain had been helped by going to an “old man who pushed something in his abdomen.”  This piqued Barral’s interest in the relationship between the viscera and the spine. With the help of radiologist Dr Serge Cohen, Barral was able to demonstrate changes in the viscera before and after manipulation, using a combination of x-ray fluoroscopy, ultrasound and infra-red emissions to record changes in position and motion, as well as fluid exchange and evacuation. He was able to relate these to improvements in the patient’s condition. Through his patient mileage and successful results from doing techniques and fine tuning, he has developed Visceral Manipulation, which he continues to develop to the current day.

Jean-Pierre Barral began teaching Visceral Manipulation in the United States in 1985. Since then he has trained a team of international teachers who teach Visceral Manipulation seminars around the world. He has also authored numerous textbooks for healthcare professionals and a book for the general public, Understanding the Messages of Your Body, which discusses the link between our organs and our emotions.  He continues to research and develop manual therapy techniques while maintaining a full clinical practice.

Where do I sign up?

At Victory, we’ve been finding that Visceral Manipulation is a fascinating – and surprisingly common – piece of the clinical puzzle for many people whose back and hip pain (or any other area of you body!) hasn’t responded to conventional physiotherapy.  So we are delighted to have Nikki on board (working alongside Helen and Nell who also have Visceral Manipulation training) and specialising in this area. So if you’ve had back or hip pain for a long time and it’s not been responding to normal treatment, or if you have back pain with bloating or gut symptoms, or if your back gets worse when you’re stressed – call us on 0207 175 0150 or click the button below, and come and see Nikki for a physio assessment, to find out if treating your viscera could be the solution you’ve been waiting for.

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