So to start, can your organs be causing you pain?
In short, the answer is YES! Just take a look at the diagrams provided to get a basis of what we know in the Western Medical model. Viscera, aka organs, can refer their “pain” to their surrounding area and, sometimes, what one may think is an orthopedic concern is actually something more internal!
Why is this pain often missed?
This pain is commonly missed because there is often a perception that the pain is coming from an external source. You can find these images and more information about the nitty-gritty here.
If it is visceral pain then why can I rub a muscle and I feel better?
When you rub or put pressure on this area our brain senses some relief because it distracts it momentarily. It’s really no different than rubbing an area where you hit your head or if you got hit by a ball. It is just a self-soothing technique.
The major tell is when you treat a musculoskeletal problem, but the pain keeps coming back. Like I always tell patients here. “Square peg, square hole”. If the muscle was the problem then it shouldn’t come back after treating the muscle, right?
So how is this caused?
Sometimes adhesions are caused by sedentary lifestyles, recreational drug use, smoking, poor diet, dehydration, and, as I’ve mentioned before in other articles, disuse, misuse, and abuse. These adhesions can cause the organs to be “stuck”.
The basis of adhesions are "cross links". Cross links can start tethering tissues together. And that is no bueno when they grow in excess.
Image: Part of the process of collagen maturation includes developing cross-links between peptide chains or between collagen molecules. It is the cross links that give collagen and the scar strength. Also during the maturation process, collagenase breaks down inappropriately oriented collagen molecules. The result is that the new collagen, initially laid down in a chaotic, disorganized way, becomes oriented along the lines of contour stress in a manner similar to the way nature intended and nontraumatized collagen appears.
Do we need surgery and how can this be managed?
Sometimes adhesions or keloids happen after surgeries such as hysterectomies and C sections or other abdominal surgeries. Some surgeons will suggest opening you back up to get rid of the adhesions. If you want to avoid another surgery, there are some techniques that I, and other manual therapists, may use to break up those adhesions.
How can we treat this?
Surgeries for the vast majority can be prevented because we can break up these adhesions with visceral mobilization. Essentially, we break up adhesions that cause the organs to stick to other connective tissues.
Another part of visceral mobilization is treating the valves.
Our organ’s valves are centrally tied to our nervous system: our spine and our brain.
Just imagine a pipe that’s been taxed or loose or having issues. How much stress and strain to the entire system are we facing because just one pipe is backed up. So if a pipe is working too hard, in reality, it may burst. However, in our body, it often just shuts off to prevent damage to the rest of the system.
By removing the adhesions and reopening the valves, we can get that particular organ working in the system again.
How did visceral manipulation come about?
Anyone can benefit from hands-on manual therapy to mobilize the viscera. Visceral mobilization has come from many schools of thought from Ancient Chinese Medicine, European Osteopathic Medicine and even Ancient Egyptian Medicine which was way ahead of its time. But more importantly, it was popularized by Jean Pierre Barral of France.
Does it really work? Is it researched or just a placebo?
I have had great success with it and found that it has really worked for my patients, but studies have been varied and are, more or less, inconclusive. All we can go by are clinical changes and what patients tell us. Fortunately, if you try this with a trained professional, in general, the worst thing that can happen is nothing. So there is very little risk if you haven’t been able to find relief from other forms of treatment.
I will close by saying that there are still populations of people that we avoid doing these kinds of treatments on. One such population would be those with metastatic cancers.
Well, I hope this answered some of your organ pain questions! If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of “organ pain”, I recommend seeking out a manual therapist that has been trained in visceral manipulation to see if you may be a good candidate for treatment!
Remember, we can and we will get better together!
Dr. Justin C. Lin