Healing Modality: Visceral Manipulation
Visceral Manipulation (VM) was developed by Jean-Pierre Barral, a French Osteopath and Physical Therapist. While studying lung anatomy with a specialist in lung diseases during his schooling, Dr. Barral noticed certain patterns of stress in the tissues of cadavers. Integrating this information with biomechanics in living subjects and working on a patient he had been treating with spinal manipulation, his patient mentioned that his back felt better after an old man pushed something in his abdomen. Dr. Barral wondered if there was a relationship between the viscera and the spine and began exploring stomach manipulations with several patients and had successful results. These experiments lead to the development of the technique in 1975 now called Visceral Manipulation.
The body, in its normal state of health flows, moves, breathes, digests and does everything it needs to do automatically.
Diseases, surgeries, acute injuries, chronic pain, the birth process and even emotional issues and posture can cause tension disruptions in the body which disrupts healthy and normal movement. When the blood vessels, connective tissue, ligaments, nervous, musculoskeletal, urogenital, respiratory, digestive or lymphatic systems do not function correctly, they affect many other parts of the body.
Some examples that may do well with visceral manipulation technique:
A female child at 3 years of age had a ruptured appendix which was removed but the child ended up with severe scaring both outside and inside the body. Keloids (where the tissues stick to each other) adhered to the uterus and fallopian tubes on the right side. As the child grew to the age of puberty, each time she had her period and the uterus contracted to dispel the endometrial lining, the uterus cramped as it pulled against the scar tissue which in turn pulled on other tissues around it. The pulling caused bowel cramping at the ileocecal valve area (the ileocecal valve is associated with a host of challenges alone) slowing the gut movement (peristalsis) causing constipation and low back pain. Scar tissue attached to the bladder caused some incontinence problems and sometimes prevented the bladder from emptying properly or causing the need to urinate more frequently.
A person gets into a car accident causing whiplash and a broken rib which perforates the lung. As the body heals these injuries cause chronic pain which causes the accident victim to twist their body in such a way as to cause the spine to slip out of place so that the muscles spasm. The lungs can no longer inflate optimally causing more tugging of the spine. No matter how many chiropractic adjustments this person has, without attending to the internal scar tissue, the back will never stay in place.
Interstitial cystitis: The swelling of the bladder and inflammation causing congestion and mechanical tension in the pelvic area along with possible adhesions pushes on the vessels and nerves of other organs in the pelvis which can interfere with bowel and reproductive function.
How Visceral Manipulation works:
A visceral manipulator uses rhythmic motions on the outside of the body to release scars, stagnation, tissue stickiness and other soft tissue disruptions from underlying subcutaneous tissues Manual manipulations can gently assist the inside tissues to stretch and pop away from the other internal organs they are attached to. Like cranio-sacral work, practitioners are taught that the delicate and often highly reactive nature of the visceral tissues need only gentle force in just the right places to obtain greatest results. The practitioner of this art is trained to feel subtle differences in heat given off in the affected areas and can feel abnormalities of the body pulses and movements of the internal organs. Structural imbalances of the muscles, skeleton, vessels, nerves, lymph and internal organs are assisted and manipulated by gently applying pressure to certain areas of the body which increases the communication between organs. Too much pressure can cause further injury and disruption. The manipulations allow body parts that are not working appropriately to move back into correct movement thus relieving symptoms of pain, dysfunction and poor posture.
Visceral Manipulation has been indicated for a host of health challenges including:
- Anxiety and depression
- Autonomic mechanisms
- Bladder incontinence
- Bloating and constipation
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Chest or abdominal sports injuries
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Chronic spinal dysfunction
- Constipation and gastritis
- Headaches and migraines
- Infant colic
- Menopausal effects
- Nausea and acid reflux
- Peripheral joint pain
- Persistent vomiting
- Post-infection scar tissue
- Post-operative scar tissue
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Prostate dysfunction
- Seatbelt injuries
- Somatic-visceral interactions
- Swallowing dysfunctions
- Testicular pain referred from other organs
- Vesicoureteral reflux
Who Provides Visceral Manipulation?
A wide variety of health care professionals have taken Dr. Barrel’s visceral manipulation courses both in the United States and internationally including: osteopathic physicians, medical doctors, chiropractors, doctors of Oriental medicine, naturopaths, physical therapists, occupational therapists and massage therapists.
As a side note, most alternative and integrative medicine practitioners do not list all the classes they have taken for continuing education in their phone ads or on their websites so you may have to call around and ask to find a practitioner.
It’s my personal opinion that people who are great at these types of techniques and in their chosen fields are not technicians in their fields (ones who follow the manual to hopefully achieve results) but artists who tune in accurately and go with the flow of the individual body to sculpt a beautiful and appropriate positive result. If you don’t feel comfortable with one practitioner, don’t give up: find an artist.
Jean-Pierre Barral has written several books including: Visceral Manipulation, Visceral Manipulation II, Urogenital Manipulation, The Thorax, Manual Thermal Evaluation and a book for the general public—Understanding the Messages of Your Body.
He also co-authored three books with Alain Croibier, D.O.: Trauma: An Osteopathic Approach, Manual Therapy for the Peripheral Nerves and Manual Therapy for the Cranial Nerves.
Helpful links and references for Visceral Manipulation:
- The Barral Institute: https://www.barralinstitute.com/
- The Upledger Institute: https://www.upledger.com/content.asp?id=96
- Lay person’s book on visceral manipulation: Understanding the Messages of your body: How to Interpret Physical and Emotional Signals to Achieve Optimal Health by J.P. Barrel