What is Visceral Manipulation?

A lot of people ask what is Visceral Manipulation. Viscera refers to the internal organs of the body, so, liver, kidney, lungs, and gallbladder for example.

The Barral Institute pamphlet on VM lays it out pretty simply:

“The body is made up of many interrelated components. The organs move…and not independently, there are bones, muscles, connective tissue, nerves and vessels. When you walk, movement of the organs is transmitted through fascia to other tissues and structures in your body. When there has been an interruption of fluid movement through injury, posture, infection (to mention a few) an organs movement can be restricted…causing compensation. Do you remember the anatomy song, “the hip bone is connected the leg bone…” just picture the body as a whole with all of its beautiful organs, muscles ligaments, vessels, nerves and fascia. This would make a long winded song but it would also make a beautiful anatomy poem.”

Combining Visceral Manipulation & Massage Therapy

Over the years, the incorporation of visceral manipulation into my initial assessment has become second nature. With experience, I have learned to look at the body a whole.

Lets look as some common examples:

You might ask “why would you want to manipulate the kidneys?” The kidneys lie over the psoas muscle for example, and that can affect the hip flexor. When when I work with a patient who comes in and they have a tight psoas muscle or tight hip flexor, part of my assessment is to actually check the kidneys and I may actually do maneuvers where I manipulating the kidney which affects the hip flexors of the psoas muscle.

Another example of visceral manipulation would be if there are adhesions to the bowel, they can affect bowel movement. Lower back pain is one of the most common reasons people come to see their massage therapist. But understanding the root cause of the back pain is the most effective way to treat it.

If someone comes to see me with lower back pain, which is very common, they often say “it’s my back, it’s my back”. Then I look at their stomach and it’s completely bloated. There is clearly an underlying issue that isn’t just musculoskeletal. It doesn’t matter how hard or how many different ways I try to massage the back and hips, the back pain won’t go away because it is actually the bowels that are the issue.

During history taking I’ll ask a lot of questions about bowel movement and bowel function. The back pain could be a chronic constipation or it could be adhesions from past surgeries.

I’ve seen people who have had surgeries years before and then as they age, they start having a lot of trouble with the scar tissue around the bowels.

Visceral manipulation is just another tool in my toolbox. It’s important to look at and understand past history so that I’m not just treating the muscular system via traditional massage therapy, I’m treating the body as a whole. The more I am able to assess and treat the underlying issue, the better the results for my patients.