Visceral osteopathy treatment (VOT) is a branch of osteopathy that utilises techniques that help address issues within the thoracic, abdominal, and pelvic cavities that may be the result of restrictions within the facia, ligaments and other associated structures that may be impeding circulation, lymphatic flow, and proprioceptive communication within the body. Like our musculoskeletal system, our internal organs also have their own motion and physiological motility that is needed for optimal function. The musculoskeletal and visceral systems are interrelated through their fascial attachments and therefore dysfunction in one system may influence the other. Therefore, it is vital that visceral osteopathy is not seen as separate from general osteopathic treatment but an important element of it.
Some small studies have shown that VOT may help to benefit individuals experiencing digestive issues and discomfort like constipation and IBS while others have shown it may aid discomforts like period pain (1-4). Further, other small studies have suggested VOT may help with lower back pain (5). Treating the back may also be important in helping improving issues like digestive function for example. This is due to organs being attached to the spine via fascial connections and ligaments as well as due to neurological components. These fascial connections suspend the organs within the abdominal cavity and should ideally move freely. As osteopathy does with joints and other soft tissue structures of the body, the aim of VOT is to improve movement and function in the same way with the aim of aiding digestive physiological processes and fluid dynamics through improving circulation in the area.
Additionally, treating areas of the spine, including the neck, is also considered due to the autonomic nervous system, as nerves involved in gut function and organs in the thorax, stem from these areas. Therefore, VOT is not a modality on its own but is used as part of normal osteopathic care which embraces looking at the whole body in a holistic manner. This is integral for optimal recovery. For example, your osteopath may treat your neck due to some dysfunction in the joints or muscles in the area that may be impeding optimal function of the vagus nerve, the nerve which innervates the gut and is vital for aiding digestive processes.
- Attali TV, Bouchoucha M, and Benamouzig R. Treatment of refractory irritable bowel syndrome with visceral osteopathy: short-term and long-term results of a randomized trial. J Dig Dis. 2013; 14(12):654-61.
- Brugmana R, Fitzgerald K and Fryer G. The effect of Osteopathic Treatment on Chronic Constipation – A Pilot Study. 2010; 13(1): 17-23.
- Schweria F, Wirthwein P, Rutz M, et al. Osteopathic treatment of women with primary dysmenorrhoea: A randomised controlled trial. 2013; 13(3)127.
- Sillem M, Juhasz-Böss I, Klausmeier I et al. Osteopathy for Endometriosis and Chronic Pelvic Pain – a Pilot Study. Geburtshilfe Frauenheilkd. 2016; 76(9):960-963.
- Tamer S, Öz M, and Ülger Ö. The effect of visceral osteopathic manual therapy applications on pain, quality of life and function in patients with chronic nonspecific low back pain. J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2017; 30(3):419-425.