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Detox Learning Center

Handling Your Health: What Is Visceral Manipulation?

No matter where you are in your detox journey, you probably already understand the importance of drainage. You need to get everything moving and draining to get all of the bad stuff out of your body. Drainage is the first step of the detoxing process, because it’s crucial to get those drainage pathways open so that toxins can pass through and be eliminated.

You might be familiar with the drainage funnel. It includes your:

All of these different parts of your body help to pass toxins and wastes through and out of your system. The kidneys, lungs, and skin also play a huge role in detoxing and drainage.

But what happens when something gets plugged up? What if you can’t poop, or your liver gets sluggish and suddenly won’t function at its optimal capacity? Then the drainage funnel gets stopped up as well.  When the body isn’t draining properly, it keeps toxins and other dangerous substances trapped inside other organs or tissues.

So, how can you unstick what might be stuck inside of you? One possible method is visceral manipulation.

What Is Visceral Manipulation?

The viscera is another name for your body’s organs. Therefore, visceral manipulation involves the use of gentle manual therapy, or “manipulation,” that is focused on the organs. It also centers on the fascia, which is the connective tissue that joins the organs to the various systems within the body. This means that visceral manipulation is intended to help both the organs and their surrounding environment. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Visceral manipulation addresses imbalances — both functional and structural — within the various organs and systems in the body. It focuses on such areas as the digestive, endocrine, nervous, musculoskeletal, respiratory, and vascular systems and any dysfunctions or issues that might occur there. The technique is especially useful for the: (6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17)

  • Biliary system (which includes the bile duct, gallbladder, liver, and sphincter of Oddi)
  • Colon
  • Kidneys
  • Lymphatic system
  • Skin (for example, scars from infections or surgeries can cause blockages and/or imbalances)

How Does Visceral Manipulation Work?

Visceral manipulation uses soft pressure to support the mobility, motion, and tone of the organs (viscera) and their connective tissues. The goal is to help the organs and their related systems to work better, and in doing so, to encourage the structural integrity and general health of the entire body. By using precisely directed force in specific areas, visceral manipulation helps support and improve the body’s own forces and functions. (5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14)

Where Did Visceral Manipulation Originate?

Visceral manipulation was developed by Jean-Pierre Barral, a French physical therapist and osteopath. Osteopaths are practitioners who use physical manipulation of the various tissues in the body to help alleviate pain and other ailments. (18)

Barral discovered that when areas of tension build up in a particular organ, this results in a pull on nearby tissues that causes imbalances in the organ and its surroundings. Visceral manipulation is used to help alleviate these areas of tension. It does this by attempting to alter the motion and position of organs, as well as the way that fluids build up and/or flow within the organs. (6)

If visceral manipulation sounds like something that you might want to try, you should be able to find a practitioner who uses it fairly easily. Many different types of specialists incorporate visceral manipulation into their practice, including: (6)

  • Chiropractors
  • Dentists
  • Massage therapists
  • Medical doctors
  • Occupational therapists
  • Osteopaths
  • Physical therapists

What Does Visceral Manipulation Do?

  1. Boosts sphincter control (Sphincters are like little flaps or doors between certain parts of the body — for example, between the esophagus and the stomach — that open and close to let things pass through or prevent them from passing through) (19, 20, 21)
  2. Helps reduce muscle spasms, which can cause tension and twisting of the organs
  3. Improves the circulation and flow of fluids
  4. Increases organ mobility, or the way that an organ moves within the body
  5. Increases organ motility, which is the movement that takes place within the organ itself
  6. Promotes the production of hormones and related chemicals, which helps the organs function properly
  7. Regulates emotions, both through the gut-brain axis following manipulation of the gut, as well as by releasing tension that is often caused by pent-up, suppressed emotions
  8. Supports immune function by easing issues in the gastrointestinal and lymphatic systems, both of which are linked to our immune system

What Is Fascia?

Fascia is a web-like system of bands or sheaths of connective tissue, which are made up of collagen bundles, elastin fibers, and fluid. These bands of tissue support or bind together different organs and parts of the body. Fascia is now considered to be the most prevalent tissue in the body and was named a “new organ,” known as the interstitium, in 2018. (1, 2, 3, 4)

When fascia is healthy, it usually takes on a gel-like state and is constantly in motion. But when the fascia is stuck and not functioning properly, it has a more solid form. Visceral manipulation works to return the fascia to its gel form and keep it moving. (22, 23)

Ligaments

Ligaments are one type of fascia. You may have heard that ligaments hold together bones and joints, such as your knee. However, they can also connect two organs together or connect an organ to the body wall. They may also take the form of a membrane or sac and surround an organ. (24, 25, 15)

For example, ligaments known as the folds of pleura surround the lungs. The folds of peritoneum cover the intestines. And the gastro-hepatic ligament, otherwise known as the lesser omentum, connects the stomach to the liver. (26, 27, 28, 29)

The job of the ligaments is to protect and keep your organs in place so that they continue to move in the ways they’re intended to — without getting distorted, twisted, or immobile. Thanks to the ligaments, when your body is working correctly and not stuck, certain organs will move together in sync, as if following a choreographed dance. Visceral manipulation aims to keep your organs dancing. (15, 30)



What Happens When the Fascia Gets Stuck?

There are several ways that your body can get bound up and overly tight. When an area of the body is stuck in this way, even minimally, it can begin to cause problems that intensify as the issue continues. As your body compensates for an imbalance, it can knock other organs off-kilter as they attempt to align with the already-imbalanced organ.

When the body is affected by stressors, such as emotional or physical trauma, inflammation, or surgery, the collagen and elastin in the fascia can bind together. The tissue becomes dehydrated, causing fluid motion to decrease. The organs that usually move freely bind together instead of sliding easily past each other. This is how they become stuck and lose their mobility. (2, 31, 32)

Think of it like what happens when you wear a t-shirt that’s too tight — it makes it difficult for you to raise your arms or have a good range of motion. That’s what happens in your body when your organs are blocked or stuck.

Here are some of the different forms of obstructions that can occur: (33, 34, 35, 7, 36)

  • An adhesion results when an organ’s motility, or inner movement, is reduced. 
  • A restriction happens when functional or positional movement of an organ is blocked.
  • A fixation is a combination of the two, when both mobility and motility are partially or completely blocked. This is often the result of an infection or surgery.

Depending on where they are in the body, these things can be extremely painful. Restrictions can put the equivalent of up to 2,000 pounds per square inch of pressure on an organ! And such obstructions can also be hard to detect and identify, as most fascial issues of these varieties don’t show up on the majority of scans or normal types of testing, such as X-rays or CT scans. Only ultrasounds may possibly show them. (14, 37)

What Does Visceral Manipulation Treat?

Visceral manipulation is used to treat a wide variety of conditions and symptoms, including: (7)

  • Children’s health concerns
  • Chronic pain
  • Constipation
  • Depression and other emotional issues
  • Digestive issues
  • Hernias
  • IBS
  • Men’s and women’s health issues
  • Migraines
  • Seatbelt injuries
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Whiplash

Here’s a closer look at a few of the specific areas that can be helped by visceral manipulation, along with how a treatment can be beneficial.

Colon

When the colon is restricted, muscle spasms can cause it to be twisted. The ligaments on either side are pulled, and even parts of the body that are further away may also be pulled. This results in a lack of flow, which can cause a decrease in the movement of the bowels and corresponding pain. Visceral manipulation can encourage proper flow in your bowels and keep you pooping. (12)

Hiatal hernia

When part of the stomach becomes displaced and moves up through the diaphragm, it is known as a hiatal hernia. This type of hernia can be of particular concern because it affects the vagus nerve. And because of the major influence that the vagus nerve has throughout the body, many different organs will be affected, including the heart, intestines, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and stomach. (38, 39, 40, 41)

Symptoms of a hiatal hernia include:

  • Anxiety
  • Asthma
  • Digestive issues, such as acid reflux, bloating, gas, and stomach pain after eating
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Numbness
  • Pain
  • Shortness of breath

Visceral manipulation treats hiatal hernias by “pulling down the stomach” and returning it to its proper location. It also addresses the five different sphincters located in this area to encourage proper flow. With a little bit of training, you can even learn to use visceral manipulation on yourself to encourage relief. (42, 43)

Kidneys

Kidneys should move up and down in the body according to the pressure exerted on them. Increased pressure should cause them to go up, and a decrease in pressure should cause them to go down.

However, trauma can cause the kidneys to rotate or drop an abnormal amount. When the kidneys drop down this way, it’s known as ptosis. This can also cause a tug on the kidneys’ vasculature, which impairs their ability to filtrate toxins and waste. Visceral manipulation can address kidneys that are too low, twisted, or that don’t have proper motion. (13, 44, 45, 46, 47)

Sphincters

Sphincters should easily open and close when things need to pass through or be held in. But sometimes, they can become stuck either closed or open. This causes fluids to back up, which creates pressure. The pressure can lead to dysfunction, pain, and stagnation. (19, 20, 21)

The bile duct has its own sphincter, known as the sphincter of Oddi. When this sphincter gets blocked, the flow of bile can back up, lessen, or stop altogether. Visceral manipulation attempts to open this sphincter to increase the flow of bile. (10, 11, 48)



Visceral Manipulation and Trauma

Addressing trauma is one of the primary intentions of visceral manipulation. The technique is used to reverse the effects of chemical, emotional, and physical traumas in the body.

Practitioners of visceral manipulation strongly believe in the link between the mind and the body, as well as the long-term and ongoing effects of trauma. They feel that every experience remains in the body, its effects linger, and the body never forgets. In other words, they say, “The issue is in the tissue.” (16, 17, 18)

Even accidents or major emotional stresses that you may have experienced as a young child can continue to affect you and your health. (16, 17, 18)

In the case of physical trauma, this can put a strain on the various organs or pull on the ligaments connected to them. Trauma can displace organs, including knocking the heart or lungs off their axes. This creates a range of symptoms, even some at a great distance from the affected organ. That’s why it’s so important to use visceral manipulation to move things back where they belong. (49, 50)

Emotional trauma can also have a major impact on the body. Some experts suggest that our cells hang on to even deep-rooted emotions and react accordingly, such as with increased tension, pain, or other symptoms. In traditional Chinese medicine, the belief is that we hold anger in our liver and gallbladder, anxiety and sadness in our heart and lungs, and fear in our kidneys. (16, 17, 18, 51)

For that reason, visceral manipulation may bring up long-forgotten or repressed emotions from way earlier in our lives — even from before we were born. Bringing these emotions to the surface can help someone to not only deal with the emotional trauma, but also to heal the related effects on the body that the emotion might have been causing for years. (16, 17, 18)

What to Expect from a Visceral Manipulation Treatment

Thinking that visceral manipulation could help you, but nervous because you don’t know what to expect? If you’d like to know more so that you can be better prepared, here are a few things to keep in mind for during and after your treatment.

  • Following your treatment, hydrate by drinking a lot of water to flush out the toxins that will have been released from your tissues.
  • Although even a single treatment can do a world of good, it may take multiple treatments to really get to the root of the problem and start to heal. The older you are, the more trauma your body has experienced, so the longer it might take for you to experience optimal benefits from the treatment. Don’t be discouraged if you need to return for additional sessions.
  • As your body releases tension and toxins, it could go into an almost shut-down state. It’s sort of like a deep meditation or sleep. Some people compare it to being dead while still alive, but don’t let that scare you. It won’t last and is perfectly normal with visceral manipulation.
  • Because you may be clearing a lot of toxins during visceral manipulation, you may experience strong detox reactions, also known as herxing reactions. You might also notice that your symptoms are aggravated before they become better. This will subside, and you should feel much better shortly after.
  • During your session, you may experience a sudden uncontrolled intake of breath — almost like you’re gasping for air. This is very common, so don’t be alarmed. You could also experience discomfort, pain, or shaking as your body releases fluids and other things that it’s been hanging onto. This is temporary.
  • Following a treatment, take it easy for the next day or two so that your organs and fascia can adjust and settle into the new positions that they have been moved to.
  • Get a lot of rest after undergoing visceral manipulation, so that your body can easily recover.
  • If any of your digestive organs were treated, consider eating light meals for a day or two afterward.
  • Visceral manipulation can work especially well in conjunction with:
    • Castor oil packs
    • Coffee enemas
    • Detoxing supplements
    • Emotional clearing
    • Epsom salt baths

Manipulate Your Health

Everyone can get a little bit set in their ways at times — whether it’s your bowels getting plugged up, an organ that has shifted and won’t slide back into place, or stiff ligaments held tight by tension. Whatever it is that has you feeling stuck, visceral manipulation can set things in motion again.

This form of treatment will gently glide your organs back into place, open your drainage pathways, and release built-up toxins. Sometimes, your body just needs a little encouragement to perform at its fullest, and visceral manipulation can coax your organs and fascia to get moving again.