by TJ Mallet

Visceral Manipulation (VM) is a manual therapy wherein a therapist uses gentle, specific manual forces that encourage normal mobility, tone and natural tissue motion of the viscera (organs), the visceral connective tissue and other areas of the body where physiologic motion has been impaired. VM affects many body systems. Its purpose, according to Jean-Pierre Barral, D.O., the developer, “is to recreate, harmonize and increase proprioceptive communication in the body to enhance its internal mechanism for better health.”

Barral was born in Grenoble, France. He began his career as a registered physical therapist and went on to pursue a doctorate in osteopathy. While working at the Lung Disease Hospital, in Grenoble, he had the opportunity to perform cadaver dissections. Some of the cadavers he had known when they were alive, and had treated them, worked on their bodies and had their medical histories. He could therefore compare what he knew to what he saw post-mortem. He observed a lot of tissue thickening around the viscera and realized this thickening caused altered mechanical tensions on surrounding tissues.

From 1965 to 1982, Barral taught Spinal Biomechanics at England’s European School of Osteopathy. It was during this time he had a patient complaining of back pain who showed great improvement after visiting a folk healer in the Alps who, the patient said, “pushed something in my abdomen.” Noticing how effective this treatment was in relation to his patient’s problem, Barral continued his research in the relationship between viscera and body dysfunction. He discovered that musculoskeletal, spinal, cranial relationships would self-correct after proper VM.

Our bodies need movement to be healthy—inside and out. If they don’t move, they become tight, stiff and painful. One of the major causes of impaired movement is inflammation. Many things create inflammation including any jarring injury (falls, auto accidents), repetitious movements, diet, environmental toxins, infections, surgery and emotional stress.

As an example, when we get into a car accident, our entire body gets knocked around and micro to macro lesional tears occur in the tissues. Our organs reverberate against our skeletal container. Sometimes not just our neck but our entire body gets whiplashed. There are four types of whiplash that can be theoretically distinguished: back to front, front to back, right to left and left to right, and none of these four types occurs in isolation. However, whiplash is not isolated to just auto accidents; one could miss a stair step, jump improperly on a trampoline, be tossed in their seat by amusement park roller coaster rides or turbulent airplanes, or any kind of a sudden fall.

As our body naturally begins to heal from a trauma, the disrupted normal tissue fibers are replaced with relatively inelastic granular tissue, creating lesions, inhibiting the natural slipping and sliding our organs need to move, thus causing impaired movement of the body. For example, if the liver has limited range of motion, it can inhibit a person from being able to freely raise their right hand above their head. If the kidneys are unable to have full range of movement, low back pain could be present.

There are a number of systems that work together to support and hold abdominal organs in place while still allowing for their natural motion. All of our internal structures are wrapped in a double layer membrane system that produces fluid, creating a suction effect between the two layers holding structures together while still allowing for slipping and sliding over each other. If one organ has the slightest hang-up to slipping and sliding over another, it compromises not only that particular organ but can manifest symptoms in other areas. A good visual and visceral example of this is if you tightly twist your shirt at the bottom right corner, you will feel the pull of your shirt in multiple directions across and all the way up to your shoulder.

Another system is one that involves hollow organs such as the intestines. Hollow organs have greater pressure inside of them than outside which make them expand and occupy the maximal amount of space available to them. If, for example, a person has had an appendectomy (surgery to remove the appendix), the ascending colon can be compromised by scar tissue pulling and twisting it out of shape, creating a struggle in its movement and function, resulting in compromised bowel function.

A third system is the pressure within each cavity—either positive or negative. The chest (thoracic) cavity has a negative pressure which plays an important role in support of the abdominal organs. The negative pressure creates an upward force on the abdominal organs and the positive force of gravity in the abdominal cavity acts as an opposing pressure to maintain a dynamic balance. When any one or all of these systems are disrupted, adhesions (stuck tissues) can develop, creating a lack of interior motion.

Over time, as the body struggles, it gets more difficult and a mind-body disconnect along with pain can take place. Just think of it as having a direct path from the front door of the house to the back door with kids’ large toys scattered in that path, making you go around them. If multiple visits from front to back be made all day, it would consume more of your energy and you would be more tired at the end of the day than if you had an unobstructed path. So, too, when organs have to work harder due to restrictions, they tire faster and the body becomes susceptible to dis-ease.

VM is performed by a therapist using their soft, relaxed hands with precision and minimal force to release any of the stuck areas (areas of tension) within the body. To find these stuck areas a “mechanical dialogue” is created by the therapist to determine where movement is absent or diminished. Dysfunctional areas in the body move much less than healthy tissues as they are less elastic. The body “hugs” or rather protects the area of restriction leading to alignment issues and compensatory movement patterns which can lead to pain and tension in the muscular system. According to Barral, “The muscles are witnesses to what is going on deeper within the body.”

Some of the dysfunctions VM is known to have helped people get relief from are: whiplash, sports injuries, headaches, migraines, carpal tunnel, back-hip-knee pain, sciatica, bloating, constipation, acid reflux, swallowing dysfunctions, post-op scar tissue, chronic pelvic pain, endometriosis, dysmenorrhea, bladder incontinence, prostate dysfunction, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and much more.

TJ Mallet, a therapist for more than 20 years, is owner of Total Balance 4 U. She is passionate about VM, focusing on how she can best help people regain vitality, vibrant health and ease in daily life. For more information, call 954-234-3299, email [email protected] or visit