Trust your Gut: Visceral Manipulation for Digestive Disorders

Tuesday, October 15, 2019, 02:20 PM

A multitude of digestive orders plague Canadians of every age. From chronic constipation, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome, and acid reflux, to lactose intolerance, more than 20 million Canadians suffer from digestive disorders every year. The Canadian Digestive Health Foundation lists 19 different common digestive disorders that are experienced every day.

Visceral manipulation can help relieve those digestive disorders. It is a gentle hands-on therapy that works through the body's visceral system, including the intestines and other internal organs, to alleviate abnormal points of tension. It encourages the normal mobility, tone, and motion of the viscera (the internal organs) and their connective tissues.

Client receiving visceral manipulation.

Digestive disorders can also have surprising negative impacts on other areas of your health, including your mental health. This blog discusses the benefits of visceral manipulation for both your physical and emotional health.

What is Visceral Manipulation?

Visceral manipulation is sometimes referred to as organ massage or abdominal massage. It is a gentle massage performed by a massage therapist, osteopath, or other trained practitioner.

The goal of the treatment is to encourage normal tone and movements both within and between the internal organs, their connective tissue, and other structures of the body.

Visceral manipulation is used to locate and release dysfunctional patterns throughout the body that restrict movement and decrease vitality. It encourages the client's natural mechanisms to improve the functioning of organs, reduce the negative effects of stress, enhance mobility, and improve metabolism.

When performing visceral manipulation, the therapist will use up and down, back-to-front, and side-to-side motions to massage the organs and release tension or restrictions to return the organ to optimal functioning.

The type of touch performed by the practitioner includes compression, mobilization, and elongation of the tissues. The patient may stand, sit, or lay down, depending on their issues.

Visceral Manipulation and Digestive Disorders

Because visceral manipulation involves restoring the internal organs — particularly the stomach and large and small intestines — to their optimal function, it is beneficial for people who suffer from digestive disorders.

Digestive disorders, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, cause a range of symptoms that can reduce quality of life, including nausea, stomach pain, headaches, bloating, gas, acid reflux, diarrhea, constipation, and more.

Symptoms affect both males and females of all ages and can be a lifelong battle. Poor digestion can be caused by diet, stress, medication, food sensitivities, genetics, and medical conditions.

Traditional treatment options for digestive issues include fibre supplements, probiotics, laxatives, increased water intake, and a strict diet.

Visceral manipulation is not a commonly known remedy for digestive problems; however, research shows that it can positively affect those suffering from chronic constipation, stomach pain, and other gastrointestinal issues.

Research has shown that abdominal massage is effective in treating chronic constipation by stimulating peristalsis (muscle contractions that move food through the digestive tract), decreasing colonic transit time, increasing frequency of bowel movements, and decreasing discomfort and pain associated with constipation.

Another study showed that abdominal massage decreased severity of gastrointestinal symptoms, especially constipation and abdominal pain syndrome, and increased bowel movements. For women in particular, visceral manipulation has been proven to help decrease abdominal pain (PDF) and bloating, and increase quality of life.

Strong, functional digestion is an important part of overall physical health. Links between digestive health and mental health have also been found. The mind-gut connection shows that digestive issues can cause depression and anxiety.

The Mind-Gut Connection

The connection between the brain and gut is complicated.  Have you ever a "gut feeling" about a situation or person or felt "butterflies" when nervous? This is the physical manifestation of how the gut can impact mood. While it is often regarded as instinct, the mind-gut connection is a lot more scientific than that.

The brain has a direct effect over the stomach and intestines, and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is very sensitive to emotions. Because of this interaction, a person's stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression.

The enteric nervous system is a system of neurons that controls the function of the GI tract. It is referred to as the second-brain because 100 million neurons in the enteric nervous system enable us to "feel" the inner world of our gut and its contents.

The enteric nervous system is also able to able to control gut function independently of the brain, meaning it has intelligence that is markedly different than the rest of the body.

Further, 90% of the fibres in the primary visceral nerve carry information from the gut to the brain, but not the other way around. Because of this, unpleasant information resulting from poor digestion can travel to the brain and influence emotions and state of mind.

It is suggested that the gut is as influential to your mood as your head. Studies have shown that a healthy gut can lower your reaction to stress, improve memory, and reduce social anxiety. Therefore, using visceral manipulation to support healthy digestion can also impact mood, stress levels, and anxiety.

Visceral manipulation is considered generally safe for most people. However, therapists are trained to work cautiously and will not perform the treatment if they feel it is unsafe for the client. Some contraindications include acute infection, inflammation, recent abdominal trauma, and pregnancy.

Consult your health care provider before seeking visceral manipulation. Always provide your complete health history to your holistic practitioner before receiving treatment. To find a practitioner who specializes in visceral manipulation, visit the NHPC Member Directory.

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