What is viscera?
Viscera is the term applied to the internal organs of the body, for example, the lungs, liver, kidneys, stomach, bladder, intestines etc. All organs are richly supplied with nerves and blood vessels and have vital functions to keep us healthy. Although we are rarely aware of what is happening on the inside with our organs, it is an area often forgotten about as a cause of both acute and chronic musculoskeletal pain.
Movement of the organs
All organs should be able to move in certain ways, each specific to the organ. For example, the liver should be able to move up and down, to allow side flexion of the spine, rotate slightly towards the right and the left to allow rotation of the rib cage, and forwards and backwards to allow extension and flexion of the back. Similarly, the kidneys should be able to move slightly upwards on inhalation, and move back downwards on an exhalation.
Why would organs move less than normal?
It is possible for the organs to show reduced movement from normal after trauma, for example car crashes, falls off bikes, and sporting injuries. This can also be the case when people have been ill, or are systemically unwell, for example, with chronic fatigue, cystic fibrosis, or various gut issues. Again the viscera, particularly the gut, can go into spasm, for example, with irritable bowel syndrome, chronic constipation or other bowel disorders.
Operations – ie to remove the appendix, or a caesarean – result in scar tissue formation which is part of the normal healing process. It is possible for the scarring to bind to the tissues and other organs around it, which can cause pain, and dysfunctional movement. In particularly bad cases, it is possible for the scar to become so tight and tethered that the posture is affected.
When the organs don’t move optimally, it can stop the body moving well which can then cause pain. It can also cause irritation of the nerves to certain areas, resulting in referred pain elsewhere, via the nervous system.
What else happens with visceral dysfunction?
When the organs don’t move as well as they should do, there is an also an effect on the blood supply going to and from the organ that is affected. The organ can then become congested, which can put stress on that organ and reduce its function, although this may not be noticeable initially. Reduced blood supply to the gut can mean that food is not digested or absorbed properly. Reduced blood flow to the kidneys and liver can mean that toxins are not broken down and excreted as well as they should be. Reduced blood flow to the uterus can increase the likelihood of cramping during the menstrual cycle, and may affect fertility. It is possible to have constipation or fluid retention as a result of visceral dysfunction.
Is it possible to treat viscera that are moving badly?
There are a variety of techniques, called visceral manipulation, by which it is possible to help the organs to move better. These are very gentle techniques and should only be carried out by a practitioner who has been trained to do them. Once more normal movement has been restored to the organ in question, its blood supply and function should also become more normal. If this is having an effect on either the nervous system, or on the movement of the musculoskeletal system, then that should also improve.
Does it hurt?
Visceral techniques should not hurt, although the patient can sometimes feel tightness in the area being treated.
Are there any side effects?
The patient can feel tired, possibly for a day or so after treatment. They should drink plenty of water in this time. Occasionally patients may experience a headache.
Who is appropriate for treatment?
Anyone is able to have visceral treatment, unless there are contraindications. Your physiotherapist would discuss this with you.
What are indications for treatment?
Indications for treatment are musculoskeletal pain following trauma or surgery, chronic musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction, irritable bowel syndrome, bladder issues etc. A full assessment would be carried out by the physiotherapist and would be taken into consideration along with your medical history. We have found visceral treatment useful when other more mainstream techniques have not worked, and if visceral dysfunction is the root cause of your pain, then it is important to address this, to help achieve lasting results.
Will I need to keep coming back for treatment?
No, once the issues are addressed, then the organs should begin to work more normally and should continue to work healthily. Obviously further trauma would possibly require more treatment.