By Rick Halle-Podell, Licensed Massage Therapist, Founder of Massage Therapy of Oak Park

Life and motion are intertwined. Although we can have motion without life, we cannot have life without motion. Of particular importance are those motions—not ordinarily visible—that place within the human body. They’re linked to many levels of activity, from cellular pulsations to rhythmic contractions of the heart, diaphragm and even the craniosacral system.

What Is the Visceral System?

The visceral system relies on the interconnected synchronicity between the motions of all the organs and structures of the body. At optimal health, this harmonious relationship remains stable despite the body’s endless varieties of motion. But when one organ can’t move in harmony with its viscera due to abnormal tone, adhesions or displacement, it works against the body’s other organs and muscular, membranous, facials and osseous structures.

This disharmony creates fixed, abnormal points of tension that the body is forced to move around. And that chronic irritation, in turn, paves the way for disease and dysfunction. Imagine an adhesion around the lungs. It would create a modified axis that demands abnormal accommodations from nearby body structures. For example, the adhesions could alter rib motion, which could then create imbalanced forces on the vertebral column and, with time, possibly develop a dysfunctional relationship with other structures. This scenario highlights just one of hundreds of possible ramifications of a small dysfunction that is magnified by thousands of repetitions each day.

Thanks to the dedicated work of Jean-Pierre Barral, an osteopathic physician and registered physical therapist, healthcare practitioners today can use the rhythmic motions of the visceral system as important therapeutic tools. Barral’s research and clinical work with the viscera led to this development of a form of manual therapy that focuses on the internal organs, their environment and this potential influence on may structural and physiological dysfunctions. The term he coined for this therapy was visceral manipulation.

What Is Visceral Manipulation?

Visceral manipulation relies on the palpation of the normal and abnormal forces with the body. By using specifics techniques, therapists can evaluate how abnormal forces interplay, overlap and affect the normal body forces at work. The goal is to help the body’s normal forces remove abnormal effects, whatever their sources. Those effects can be global, encompassing many area of bodily function.

How Can Visceral Manipulation Help You?

Visceral manipulation is used to locate and solve problems throughout the body. It encourages your own natural mechanism to improve the functioning of your organs, dissipate the negative effects of stress, enhance mobility of the musculoskeletal system through the connective tissue attachments and influence general metabolism.

Today, a wide variety of healthcare professionals perform visceral manipulation. Practitioners include osteopathic physicians, allopathic physicians and doctors of chiropractic, doctor of Oriental medical, naturopathic physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapist, massage therapists and other licensed body workers.

How is Visceral Manipulation Performed?

Visceral Manipulation is based on specific placement of soft manual forces to encourage the normal mobility, tone and motion of viscera and their connective tissues. These gentle manipulations can potentially improve the functioning of individual organs, the systems the organs function within and the structural integrity of the entire body.

Harmony and health exist when motion is free and excursion is full-when motion is not labored, overexcited, depressed or conflicting with neighboring structures and their mobility. Therapists using visceral manipulation assess the dynamic functional actions as well as the somatic structures that perform individual activities. They also evaluate the quality for somatic structures and the fractions in relation of an overall harmonious pattern, with motion serving as the gauge for determining quality.

Due to the delicate and often highly reactive nature of visceral tissues, gentle force precisely directed reaps the greatest results. As with other methods of manipulation that affect the body deeply, visceral manipulation works only to assist the forces already at work. Because of that, trained therapists can be sure of benefiting the body rather than adding further injury or disorganization.

How did Visceral Manipulation Begin?

Methods such as visceral manipulation have been part of the medicinal cultures in Europe and Asia since pre-recorded times. Indeed, manual manipulation of the internal organs has long been a component of some therapeutic systems in Oriental medicine. So it’s no surprise that practitioners in many parts of the world have incorporated manipulations design to work with the internal organs and their functions.

Jean-Pierre Barral first became interested in biomechanics while working as a registered physical therapist at the Lung Disease Hospital in Grenoble, France. That’s where he met Dr. Arnaud, a recognized specialist in lung diseases and a master of cadaver dissections.
Working with Dr. Arnaud, Barral followed patterns of stress in tissues of cadavers and studied biomechanics in living subjects. This introduced him to the visceral system, its potential to promote lines of tension which the body and the notion that tissues have memory. All this was fundamental to his development of Visceral Manipulation.

In 1974, Barral earned his diploma in osteopathic medicine from the European School of Osteopathy in Madistone, England. Working primarily with articular and structural manipulation, he began forming the basis for visceral manipulation during an unusual session with a patient he’d been treating with spinal manipulations. During the preliminary examination, Barral was surprised to find appreciable movement. The patient confirmed that felt relief from his back pain after going to an “old man who pushed in his abdomen.”

The incident piqued Barral’s interest in the relationship between the viscera and the spine. That’s when he began exploring stomach manipulations with several patients, with successful results gradually leading him to develop visceral manipulation.

Between 1975 and 1982, Barral taught spinal biomechanics at England’s European School of Osteopathy. In collaboration with Dr. Paul Mathiew and Dr. Pierre Mercier, he published Auricular Vertebrae Diagnosis.

Using his work with Dr. Arnaud as a foundation, Barral continued to investigate how the thickening of issues in the body creates areas of greater mechanical tension that, in turn, pull on surrounding tissues. That discovery led him to the theoretical and practical development of visceral listening techniques.

Barral’s development of manual thermal diagnosis began in 1971 during another treatments session. While turning a female patient, he felt a strong emanation coming from her mammary gland. He learned she had been operated on for a tumor in the area.

Researching his phenomenon with other patients, he discovered just how accurately areas of stress in the body could be located by palpating the associated energy, which proved to be thermal. Consequent research has added manual thermal diagnosis to many practitioners’ diagnostic tools.

With the help of Dr. Serge Cohen, a Grenoble radiologist, Barral also documented changes in the viscera before and after manipulation. They employed x-ray fluoroscopy and ultrasound to record changes in position, motion, and fluid exchange and evacuation. Later they conducted additional research with a team of electrical engineers and technicians using infrared emission from the body.

Jean-Pierre Barral began teaching visceral manipulation in the United Stated in 1985 through The Upledger Institute, Inc. He has also authored numerous textbooks, including Visceral Manipulation, Visceral Manipulation II, Urogential Manipulation, The Thorax, Tubo-Ovaian Manipulation, Manual Thermal Diagnosis and Trauma: An Osteopathic Approach (co-authored by Alain Crobier, D.O.) Berral continues to research and develop manual medicine while maintaining a full clinical practice. Thank to his pioneering work, candidates in several European countries must now pass a rigorous test in visceral manipulation to earn a diploma as an osteopath.

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