AOPT Health Blog
What is Visceral Manipulation?

Have you struggled with troubling symptoms that no one seems to understand? Have you been to multiple providers and specialists who run tests only to leave you without answers or worse yet, feeling like it’s all in your head? And still, your symptoms persist. Visceral manipulation is a different form of medical intervention provided by specially trained practitioners who can assess and address movement restrictions involving your organs. If you are struggling with pain and not getting answers, I urge you to learn more about this gentle and beneficial option for promoting health.

Visceral Manipulation Defined

Expanded upon by Jean-Pierre Barral, a physical therapist and osteopathic physician, visceral manipulation is a gentle manual treatment approach that addresses tension in the soft tissue connections within and around our organs.  Jean-Pierre studied the connective tissue structures of the body in both cadavers and in his patients and was surprised to find how tension in one area can be carried through to other regions of the body. He discovered that addressing tension in the abdomen around the organs helped people with orthopedic problems such as back pain and hip pain because of the support structures (fascia, ligaments, ect) that anchor them to the skeletal system. Its aim is to restore movement of the tissues that surround and suspend our organs, thereby relieving tension and restriction in surrounding structures that can become painful as a result of changes in movement.

Does this actually help?

I agree this sounds a little out there.  I was a skeptic too until I felt it work first hand.  I was originally introduced to Visceral Manipulation while in graduate school as part of my Alternative Medicine class.  At the time, I was experiencing progressive weakness in my left leg that caused me to limp all of the time.  As a physical therapy student, this was both frustrating and a bit embarrassing.  I had undergone a full neurological workup and every type of imaging only to be told that no one understood what was causing my weakness.  My nerves were fine, my joints were fine, my brain was fine yet I struggled to walk.

One of the most well known practitioners and teachers of visceral work, Gail Wetzler, came to Chapman University where I was studying and chose me for a demonstration in front of the class.  She applied gentle yet specific pressure to my abdomen for less that 10 minutes and when I stood back up and walked across the room my limp was significantly better.  I felt like my leg was connected to my body again and could trust putting more weight through it.  When asked what she did, this skilled therapist shared that she had “mobilized my uterus”.  I was shocked.  My weakness did get worse with my cycle and my doctor had prescribed medication to stop my cycle from happening.  That helped a little but was certainly not a cure and had some unpleasant side effects.  She “mobilized my uterus” and I could walk better?!

This moment stuck with me and has shaped how I treat my patients 15 years later.  Why not relieve the tension in my abdomen that is not allowing my uterus and surrounding tissues to move in a healthy way?  Why not relieve restriction around the nerves and vessels in my pelvis that were causing my leg to be weak?  Why not address the CAUSE of the movement disorder instead of throwing medicine at it?

Don’t just take my word for it!

There is ample research about the effectiveness of visceral manipulation including changes in MRI findings and EMG readings before and after application of these techniques.  Studies have confirmed benefit of Visceral Manipulation for the following issues according to the Barral Institute website.

  • Acute Disorders: Whiplash, seatbelt injuries, chest or abdominal sports injuries, concussion, traumatic brain injuries
  • Musculoskeletal Disorders: Chronic spinal dysfunction, headaches and migraine, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, peripheral joint pain, sciatica, neck pain
  • Digestive Disorders: Bloating and constipation, nausea and acid reflux, GERD, swallowing dysfunctions
  • Women’s and Men’s Health Issues: Chronic pelvic pain, Endometriosis, fibroids and cysts, Dysmenorrhea, bladder incontinence, prostate dysfunction, referred testicular pain, effects of Menopause
  • Pain Related to: Post-operative scar tissue, post-infection scar tissue, autonomic mechanisms
  • Pediatric Issues: Constipation and Gastritis, persistent vomiting, Vesicoureteral Reflux, Colic
  • Emotional Issues: Anxiety and Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Who can benefit from Visceral Manipulation?

Weather big or small, most of us have had injuries and illness or trauma at some time in our lives.  Anyone can benefit.  There are little to no side effects and the changes made are lasting.

Why wait to improve your health?

Abdominal surgeries, falls, childbirth, sports injuries, scoliosis all can leave us feeling achy or ill.  Take a step toward feeling better.  Call and schedule an appointment today. Our clinic is also offering free screens where you will have the opportunity to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with our physical therapists.

Still not convinced?  Want to know more? Click here to listen to an interview with Jean-Pierre Barral, DO or read one of many books on the subject.

Blog Post by Amy Phelps, PT, DPT.

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