Visceral Therapy

Visceral Manipulation – Developed and Taught by Jean-Pierre Barral, D.O.
© Dane Roubos, D.C.

Visceral Manipulation (VM) is a gentle hands-on therapy that locates restrictions or imbalances involving the organs, their supportive connective tissues, and the musculo-skeletal system of the body. Visceral Manipulation helps restore normal function and tone to the organs, and often relieves long-standing pain, anywhere from the pelvis up to the neck and shoulder areas.

The term Visceral Manipulation came from its developer, Dr. Jean-Pierre Barral, a French osteopathic physician. While the name itself sounds rather harsh (to me, at least), it's a very gentle and respectful approach to healing. I prefer to call it Visceral Mobilization, which to me, better describes what it actually does.

“Visceral” refers to the internal organs, which include the heart, lungs, liver, gall bladder, stomach, small & large intestines, kidneys, bladder, spleen, pancreas and female reproductive organs. It works mainly with the connective tissue (fascia) which envelops and supports these organs, as well as most every other tissue in the body.

What’s the Big Deal?
A small restriction between your liver and stomach may not seem like a big deal. But consider that this restriction is being stressed and magnified over 20,000 times a day as your diaphragm moves up and down with your breath, and it may be something worth tending to. These effects will influence other organs as well. Our organs are all in continuous motion, and in constant communication with our brain and with each other.

Dr. John Upledger, the osteopathic physician who pioneered the teaching of CranioSacral Therapy had this to say about Visceral Manipulation: “Its use in preventive medicine and health care could be one of the most important contributions of our life time.”

Our Organs Have Their Own Subtle Rhythm
In the article on CranioSacral Therapy, I spoke of another rhythm in the body beyond the familiar heart beat and breathing rhythms, called the cranial-sacral rhythm. Each organ in the body also has its own subtle movement, which duplicates the migration of that organ as the embryo (baby) developed in its mother’s womb. The visceral rhythm is similar to, but distinct from the cranial-sacral rhythm. While subtle, it can be felt by trained and practiced hands.

In a healthy state, the organs all move in synchrony, as if slowly dancing to the melody of their early development. When one organ can’t move in harmony with its surrounding viscera due to abnormal tone, adhesions or displacement, it works against all the body’s organs and structures. This disharmony creates fixed, abnormal points of tension that the body is forced to move around. That chronic irritation, in turn, can pave the way for greater dysfunction and possibly even disease.

Practitioners use the rhythmic motions of the organs to determine if and where treatment is needed. Visceral Manipulation employs gentle manual pressures that encourage the normal mobility, tone and motion of the viscera and their connective tissues. These gentle mobilizations can potentially improve the functioning of individual organs, the systems the organs function within, and the structural integrity of the entire body.

As in CranioSacral Therapy, the rhythm of the organs and related tissues is very useful in locating and treating blockages or imbalances in the body. A skilled therapist can locate these problem spots through a technique called “listening,” which refers to a very careful sensing with the hands. Listening allows detection of problems that usually remain hidden from non-VM or non-CST practitioners.

Visceral Organs Can Cause Spinal Pain or Restriction
The visceral organs are directly or indirectly suspended from the spine. However, proper balance and function of the organs also contributes to spinal support. So there is an interactive relationship between the spine (and its muscular system) and the visceral organs. What happens to one also influences the others.

It's well known in chiropractic that relieving spinal restrictions can improve organ function. Unfortunately, few health care professionals are aware that relieving restrictions in the organs and their supportive structures can also improve spinal function and help to relieve back pain.

Benefits of Visceral Mobilization
Visceral Manipulation offers the ability to detect and correct many imbalances and restrictions in the body. This has both direct and indirect effects. Direct effects include improvements in motion and function, which help to alleviate the source of much pain and discomfort. I have used it with good success in many cases of chronic pain, especially pain resulting from injuries such as auto accidents.

Other direct benefits include improvement in tone, function and fluid circulation of specific organs, and relaxation of spasms in the visceral muscles. Because of this, Visceral Manipulation can be very helpful in cases of hiatal hernia and other digestive system problems.

People undergoing radiation treatments can benefit from Visceral Manipulation, as radiation dehydrates the tissues, and VM helps to improve fluid circulation. VM also helps to dissipate stress in the system and facilitate relaxation.

Visceral Mobilization encourages your own natural healing mechanisms indirectly through its effects on your nervous, hormonal and immune systems. For example, VM is thought to increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter influencing sleep and mood, as well as melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that modulates circadian (24 hour) rhythms in the body (such as sleep), in addition to immune and hormonal activity.

In addition to removing blockages and restoring balance, Visceral Manipulation helps to dissipate stress and facilitates relaxation. Most clients leave a session feeling peaceful and in touch with a deeper part of themselves.

Visceral Manipulation is Helpful for Auto Injuries
Visceral Manipulation is one of the top three therapies I would insist on if I were in an accident myself. The others at the top of the list are Lymph Drainage Therapy and CranioSacral Therapy. The next two would be chiropractic and myofascial therapy (for muscles and connective tissue).

I've used Visceral Mobilization and CranioSacral Therapy for many people with auto injuries, and we have all been very happy with the results. These three approaches have allowed me to find and treat problems I couldn’t have touched with chiropractic and muscle therapies alone.

Visceral Manipulation is particularly important in recovery from auto accidents, especially those involving whiplash type injuries. It's been found that the forces entering the body from these injuries tend to travel through the visceral organs, especially those that are fluid-filled, such as the heart. In this way, considerable force can reach the chest and abdominal cavities, creating injuries and scar tissue where it might not be suspected.

To locate a Visceral Therapist in your area, visit the International Association of Health Care Practitioners. Select Visceral Manipulation in the Modality section and enter your zip code (or the first 3 digits of your zip to extend the range of your search).