Many know osteopaths as those who “scrub” the spine, what is less known is that osteopathy also intervenes on visceral problems, such as gastroesophageal reflux, congestion of intestinal tract and many more.
Looking back to the history of this treatment method, according to the founders of visceral osteopathy (Jacques Weischenck, Jean-Pierre Barral and Pierre Mercier), this treatment approach is focused on intra-abdominal organs and described with mechanical interactions. In 2010 the World Health Organization (WHO) has incorporated in the benchmarks for training in Osteopathy, visceral techniques (WHO, 2010). In the past years it has been estimated that, among all patients who receive osteopathic treatment, the number of those patients receiving visceral treatments widely varies, 1-95 % (GOSC, 2011).
Some of the key concepts that we need to know when talking about visceral osteopathy are: the concept of visceral mobility and visceral motility. Mobility of an organ is considered as the movement that the organ can do based on his anatomical attachments, and Motility of an organ considered as the intrinsic rhythm of itself (Hebgen, 2010). These two kind of movement seamlessly reconnect to one the principals of osteopathy, the interaction between structure and function. Furthermore, is fundamental to keep in consideration the interaction between natural movements of the abdominal viscera and breathing patterns.
It is debated that these movements could be compared to the same way as an articulation moves (Barral et al. 2004). It is also claimed that dysfunction of the viscera, given the structural interdependence with the somatic system, can maintain, increase or even trigger musculoskeletal dysfunction such as lower back pain or gastrointestinal complaints such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) (Barral et al. 2004). As such, in some cases, the treatment of the viscera and somatic structures is necessary for return to optimum function and health.
Insight into the research
In the scientific literature, a pilot randomized sham-controlled study conducted by Florance et al. (2012), investigating the effects of visceral osteopathic treatment on patient with IBS reported, significant decrease in IBS severity between the control and the intervention group, in the first seven days of treatment. In this study, the intervention, consisted of direct and indirect techniques to the abdomen and colon.
An additional piece of research that can be highlighted is the one conduct by Tozzi et al. (2012). In this research the authors analysed and compared the relationships between asymptomatic and symptomatic low back pain patients, and their association with kidneys mobility scores. Furthermore, the authors evaluated the effects of visceral osteopathic treatment on renal mobility and its relationship with lower back pain. The results reported a significant correlation between decrease kidney mobility and lower back pain. Additionally, visceral osteopathic treatment was shown to have a positive effect on kidney mobility and therefore affecting patients low back pain perception.
Visceral Osteopathy explained
When an episode of back pain occurs, frequently we address this problem to the structures of the spine. However it is common that these problems originate from situations involving the abdominal, thoracic and / or pelvic viscera.
Example: if a person suffers with the intestine, he / she could complain of a low back pain, if the “primary dysfunction” is the intestinal region, the osteopath by treating the intestine could obtain a remission of the lower back symptomatology.
This process can also work in the opposite way. If a patient complains of intestine discomfort, the “primary dysfunction” could be the lower back, therefore the osteopath by working on the vertebral column could achieve a remission of the intestine symptomology.
These result are possible thanks to musculoskeletal and neurological connection of the viscera to the rest of the body and vice versa.
Types of techniques used
Most of the techniques used in visceral practice are functional techniques (Parsons et al. 2005). These techniques work by balancing tissue tensions (muscular, ligamentous etc.) (Hebgen, 2010). Furthermore the type of techniques and treatment plans will vary between patients, depending on their presentation.
If you would like to know more about how Osteopathy can support your life on a daily basis, get in touch with Guglielmo Cenci Osteopath at Dr Susan Jamieson Integrative Medical Practice