While most people are familiar with the idea of using massage therapy to relieve pain and restore mobility in muscles, joints and fascia, the idea that it can be used on the organs of the body is something not often considered. Although techniques such as Swedish massage and hydrotherapy are well-known, the process of visceral manipulation is still relatively unfamiliar to the wider public.
A form of visceral manipulation has been practiced for centuries in Tibet, but it was only a few decades ago that it was introduced to western medicine by French physical therapist, Jean-Pierre Barral. While working in a hospital which specialized in treating lung disease, Barral began exploring the potential of the visceral system to create lines of tension in the body. This led him to develop a form of physical therapy in which the organs - or viscera - are gently manipulated to release restrictions.
The body’s internal organs such as the liver, kidneys, and lungs are linked by connective tissue, and must move as a whole with the other structures of the body in order to function correctly. For instance, the kidneys move about an inch with every breath, which helps them to absorb vital nutrients.
When an organ is not fully mobile, it leads to other problems. As therapeutic massage diploma students know, the body is very protective, and when an organ is damaged, the muscles, bones, and joints around it will compensate in order to prevent further injury to the vulnerable area. This can result in physical discomfort far from the source of the problem, making it harder for therapists and other medical professionals to diagnose.
In a visceral manipulation session, the massage therapist will look for restrictions and blockages in ligaments in order to identify a line of tension in the body that can be traced to the organ that is the primary cause of the dysfunction. They will then apply a gentle deep tissue massage to release tension in the visceral system and allow it to move freely. Visceral manipulation is a very complex modality of massage therapy and requires extensive knowledge of anatomy to perform correctly. For this reason, a massage therapy school will typically only introduce it to students during the more advanced stages of their training.
Many therapists find that, when dealing with patients with persisting discomfort, visceral manipulation can be the missing piece of the puzzle, as it addresses the root cause of their dysfunction.
Massage therapist program students learn to incorporate visceral manipulation into the treatment of a variety of conditions. It has proven to be effective in treating acute conditions such as whiplash or sports injuries, digestive disorders, pain related to scar tissue, and neuromuscular disorders such as sciatica and carpal tunnel syndrome. It is also effective for patients suffering from men’s health issues like prostate dysfunction, and women’s health issues such as the after-effects of menopause and pregnancy. As the brain passes stress onto the body’s organs, therapists have also seen positive results when treating emotional issues like anxiety and depression.
Want to learn more about advanced massage therapy techniques? Visit OVCMT for more information about our diploma program.