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Visceral Mobilization and the Lumbar Spine

“…visceral manual therapy can produce immediate hypoalgesia in somatic structures segmentally related to the organ being mobilized…”

This statement is taken from an article written by MCSweeney and colleagues published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies in 2012. The authors, who state that there is a lack of research that explains underlying mechanisms for visceral mobilization, aimed to determine if visceral mobilization could produce local and/or systemic effects towards hypoalgesia. The measurement of hypoalgesia, defined by the IASP as “diminished pain in response to a normally painful stimulus,” was assessed by use of a hand-held manual digital pressure algometer for pressure pain threshold (PPT). Sixteen asymptomatic subjects were recruited from an osteopathic school and were treated on separate occasions with a visceral mobilization of the sigmoid colon, a sham intervention of manual contact on the abdomen, and a control of no intervention. Six females (mean age 23.7) and ten males (mean age 27.7) completed the single-blinded, randomized study.

The visceral manipulation technique was administered in the supine position by contacting the left sigmoid colon and drawing it superomedially for one minute, and repeated at a frequency and duration determined by the therapist base on each individual’s tissue response. The sham treatment included one minute of light tough contact over the umbilical area, and no position of ease or tissue barrier was engaged. The algometer was placed 1 centimeter to the left of the L1 spinous process, a location known to correspond to the segmental level equal to the colon. A site on the hand was used as a distant area for comparison. The authors concluded that visceral mobilization of the sigmoid colon was found to produce analgesia in tissue that is related segmentally.

The clinical practice relevance was difficult to determine, however, this study used new techniques to determine that there is an immediate and measurable effect on the body. While therapists who treat with visceral mobilization and other soft tissue techniques know that the interventions have helped their patients, having further experimental and clinical validation of the value of these techniques is critical. If you are interested in learning more about fascial approaches to easing pain and improving function in your patients, check out the courses offered by faculty member Ramona Horton.

Ramona will be teaching her Mobilization of the Myofascial Layer: Pelvis and Lower Extremities course three times this year, with the next event in Nashua, NH June 3-5. Her Mobilization of Visceral Fascia: The Urinary System course is available three times as well, next in Kirkland, WA on June 24-26. If you're ready for the advanced course, and some wine tasting(!), check out Mobilization of Visceral Fascia: The Reproductive System of Men and Women on October 14-16 in Medford, OR.


McSweeney, T. P., Thomson, O. P., & Johnston, R. (2012). The immediate effects of sigmoid colon manipulation on pressure pain thresholds in the lumbar spine. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies, 16(4), 416-423.

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