Cranial and Visceral Therapy

We are not only made of bones and muscles. Every tissue in our body is connected to the other in terms of position and function. When one structure is not functioning well, it may compromise the function of the surrounding tissues (i.e.: muscles, nerves, fascia, tendons, and ligaments). The treatment of a dysfunctional structure has to be specific to its own position (anatomy) and function (physiology).
Many aches and pains can be expressed by referred pain originated from dysfunction in viscera (digestive and respiratory organs) or tensions in the cranium. A good and most common example is the low back pain manifested by a woman presenting uterine menstrual contractions (cramps). The inverse is also true. A defect of the spinal mechanics can affect the visceral function through tensions and abnormal stretching of connective tissues which upholds the viscera, and venous congestions.


Visceral Manipulation (VM) was developed by French Physiotherapist and Osteopath, Jean-Pierre Barral. He was named one of Time Magazine’s Top Six Innovators for Alternative Medicine to watch in the new millennium.
Visceral manipulation is the practice of an experienced therapist using his or her hands to move and release fascial restrictions in your abdomen, chest and pelvis to encourage the normal movement and function of your internal organs. Most people are familiar with the idea of joint and muscle restrictions causing tightness, pain and limited movement in their bodies, but don’t consider the role of their organs. It is common place for people to go to their physio, chiro, or massage therapist to treat pain and alignment issues; unfortunately, many times these practitioners may just be treating the outer shell of the problem if they aren’t considering the mobility of your organs in your alignment and movement patterns.
Our chest, trunk and pelvis form a boney, muscular, fascial outer shell to protect and encase all of your internal organs. Our organs are not just loosely floating around in there though; they are mostly supported by tissue called fascia, peritoneum and pleura. The whole thing is a sealed system under pressure that squishes everything tightly together; each organ is wrapped in its own fascia and bathed in a little bit of fluid so it can slide and move around or over its neighbouring organs. Things that affect the pressures in the system or the ability of the organs to slide and move around in their close quarters will affect the ability of the body to move and function properly.
Pregnancy, abdominal surgery, infection, jarring injuries and emotional behaviours can all affect the mobility of your organs or viscera. Pregnancy involves a lot of stretching and reorganizing of most everything in a woman’s abdomen; this happens gradually over nine months and the body amazingly figures out how to create space for a whole other person in there. The issues can arise more during and after labour when everything is asked to change in a relatively short period of time. There is a huge pressure change and all of a sudden organs can start dropping back down; whether they find their proper, functional place to be depends on how the labour went, how much damage there was to the supportive muscles and if any surgery was done.
C-Sections are a much more invasive surgery than most people realize, but any abdominal surgery will create ‘stickiness’ in the viscera. As I mentioned, your organs are bathed in a small amount of fluid to allow them to slide around as you move; any time you expose the abdomen to air and surgical lights it is bound to create some dryness or stickiness that restricts normal mobility of the organs. A therapist trained in visceral manipulation by means of light touch can assess and treat any restrictions to help restore mobility.
Jarring forces involved in sports, car accidents and falls can affect our organs just as much as our muscles and bones. The shear forces can create tearing and scar tissue. The impact forces can create bruising. Your body does its best to protect vital organs during extreme forces but in doing so can create an aftermath of restrictions that can result in pain. Therapists should consider that the driving issue behind their client’s pain could be coming from something inside that may be harder to get at than just treating the muscles.
The emotional part is also very important in relation to visceral and musculoskeletal dysfunction. To paraphrase the late Osteopaths Jean-Pierre Barral and John Upledger, our organs are the echos of our emotions. You may have a ‘gut feeling’ or ‘butterflies in your stomach.’ In stressful or intense situations your brain passes the stress onto your organs and creates an organ-behaviour relationship. Each person tends to have his or her own weak link in a particular organ and this relates back to their underlying personality traits.
A few examples :
The Liver:
– Dependency on the past, pessimism, bad moods, fits of anger, depression
The Stomach:
– Importance of appearance and self image, social status very important, sees power in extroversion, poor self esteem, frustration, spontaneous anger
The intestines:
– insecurity, melodramatic, overly chatty, hypochondria
The Bladder:
– Controlling, guilt, avoid tension, hard time making decisions
The Kidneys:
– Fear, feeling of being abandoned, insecurity, deep seated anger, a need to lead, generosity
The fascinating part of the osteopathic approach to treating pain is that it can provide explanations based purely on anatomy for very common, but poorly understood ailments. Frozen shoulder can relate to a nerve irritation stemming from the visceral pleura. Chronically cold feet can be your small intestines. Persistent left sciatica or SI pain can be your sigmoid colon. Right medial knee pain and instability can be an irritation of your obturator nerve near your large intestine. Right shoulder pain can be a restriction in your liver. Heartburn and gastric reflux can mean your stomach is sitting too high. The list goes on and it is a bit more complicated than that, but the amazing part is that it is all treatable by a good manual therapist that knows his anatomy inside and out.
Visceral Therapy is useful for:
• Hiatal hernia
• Intestinal adhesion
• Swallowing difficulties
• Chest problems
• Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
• Digestive problems
• Constipation
• Painful periods
• Painful intercourse
• Gastric reflux
Craniosacral therapy is a gentle and noninvasive form of
manual therapy, which may improve the natural capacity
of autoregulation and self-healing processes. Craniosacral therapy can also provide
symptomatic relief in a wide range of dysfunction and pain problems.
In simplified terms this method is based on manual assessment of the half-closed hydraulic system consisting of cerebral and spinal meningitis along with the pulsating
circulating cerebrospinal fluid.
Understanding the geometry of the system of mutual tension ( in which places the cerebral and spinal meninges are attached to the bones) gives the key to proper diagnosis and treatment of craniosacral system.
Cranial Therapy is useful for:
• Headache and migraine
• Sinus problems
• Tensional headaches
• Stress related tension
• Jaw pain
• Facial pain
• Crying and colic in babies and children