The Osteopathic Approach
Many people have heard how effective the Osteopathic approach is for painful muscles and joints, or have felt for themselves how back and neck pain has been relieved by Osteopathic treatment. This page looks at ways of treating your body using the specialised techniques of Visceral Osteopathy.
What Conditions Respond to Osteopathic Treatment
Any of the conditions that you would normally go to your osteopath with could have a visceral component. It is sometimes necessary to treat parts of your body which may not be obviously related to the symptoms you are feeling.
Structure Governs Function
The guiding principle of Osteopathy is that Structure Governs Function. This means that the shape of a joint or an organ will define how it should move, and if it is unable to move properly it will not function at its best. It is not so widely appreciated that the same philosophy extends to all the organs and tissues in your body.
Viscera: The Soft Organs
Viscera refers to the organs and their soft membranes. Viscera have slippery surfaces and are attached to the walls of body cavities and the spine by ligaments. Whenever your spine moves the organs attached to it must also move. The internal organs must allow the trunk to bend and twist and the diaphragm to move during breathing. The organs move in ways which are determined by their supporting ligaments. Adhesions and tensions can alter or restrict these movements and stress the organs.
If your viscera is not able to move properly it will create stiffness or pain elsewhere in your body. If you can hear creaks and feel pain on normal movement this is a sign that you are at risk. The longer this continues, the greater the strain on your body.
You can see Visceral restrictions reflected in your posture. When an organ can no longer move normally it sets up abnormal points of tension that your body must now move around. This can happen gradually and it may only be when someone tells you that you are no longer standing straight that you notice you have stiffened up and some movements are difficult.
When you have tension in the front of your body it makes you bend forward. When the tension is to one side it makes you twist toward that side. There is a saying in Visceral Osteopathy that "the body hugs the lesion". This means that a person will look as if they are trying to wrap themselves around the tense area.
Why Do Restrictions Happen?
There are many ways that Visceral restrictions can happen:
- After surgery as your wound heals it can form tight scarred areas. The scarring can be deep, and as it takes months or even a year to form, it often goes unnoticed.
- Viscera can be injured if your body suffers trauma, such as a car crash. The shock from the seatbelt can travel through your chest and be felt in the stomach, heart and left kidney.
- You may have been born with a damaged organ or a condition such as scleroderma. Even though that condition may be untreatable it is usually possible to treat other areas to improve your general health and help you to compensate more easily.
Osteopaths are trained to find areas which feel excessively tense or vulnerable. We do this by looking at your posture, talking to you about your lifestyle and medical history and by palpating areas of your body which show signs of strain.
Health may be defined as the ability to compensate. From the moment of conception until now, you have had to adapt to the physical and biological stresses which accompany life. Failure to compensate adequately increases your susceptibility to disease and structural dysfunction.
Flexibility or freedom of motion means that your body is capable of the proper adaptation and compensation necessary for good health. When motion is free with a full and easy expression we see harmony and health.
It shouldn't be a surprise that everyone is different and I will need to consider you and your history along with palpatory findings before coming up with a model of how your body is coping.
Specialised Osteopathic Techniques
As well as the more familiar osteopathic techniques there are a variety of specialised visceral techniques which can be used to gently mobilise a restricted area, or relieve the pressure on an overstressed region. Small precisely directed forces give the greatest results due to the delicate and often reactive nature of the visceral tissues. I aim to feel forces already at work and only assist them.
The intention of osteopathy is not to force the body into some "idealised" form, rather it is to help the body to function as well as it can within its own historical limitations.
One of the techniques frequently used in visceral osteopathy is known as "stacking". Anyone who has struggled with turning the key in a locked door will know that it is easier to push the door into the frame and relieve the pressure on the lock than to struggle and forcefully twist the key.
The same principle applies with the tissues of the body, by pressing and holding in the precise directions of a restriction the tissues are given enough space to "unlock" gently.