When you hear about massage, you automatically feel your body slowly relaxing. Being rubbed down - even if it’s by your your cat that is kneading on your lap - always feels good. Actually, we should all go to a massage therapist regularly.
Recently, there has been a lot of hype on the internet about this organ massage, also known as visceral manipulation.
It’s not a completely new discovery in the world of massage. Visceral manipulation has been known since the mid ‘80s, when French osteopath Jean-Pierre Barral invented the method, according to the Barral Institute, the organization that he founded. Today it’s popular thanks to a Vogue journalist who tried it, and other platforms that have picked up on the trend.
But the thought of someone touching your internal organs is a bit uncomfortable - what is organ massage, exactly? And more important, is it even safe?
If we explain it in short, it’s a very gentle abdominal massage that can be done by massage therapists, osteopaths, allopathic physicians, and other practitioners to treat things such as constipation, post-surgical adhesions, back pain, and even stress, mood, and sleep problems. The practitioner uses her hands to evaluate tense spots and gently compress and move particular soft tissues, feeling out for tender spots and scar tissue. Its effectiveness is still to be determined, though, since modern studies are quite conflicting, says Delia Chiaramonte, M.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine. However, it’s worth pointing out that there are health benefits associated with touch in general.
For instance, one research demonstrated that after a six-week period, visceral manipulation (in addition to standard pain treatment) didn’t provide people with lower back pain any relief (when compared to the placebo group), but they did have less pain after 52 weeks of continued massage treatment. In a study conducted on rats with abdominal adhesions, organ massage was found to both lower and prevent the adhesions, as published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. While it can’t be assumed the same would be relevant for people, it gives a little merit to the practice of organ massage in general.
Taking into account the shortage of proof behind it, why would anyone decide to try it?
Visceral fascial constriction can happen in the body, especially if there is scar tissue from abdominal surgery (like a C-section), for instance, explains Anna Esparham, M.D., clinical assistant professor of integrative medicine at the University of Kansas Health System. Almost like those tight spots in your quads, but in the connective tissue around your organs. Massage-just like in your muscles-can help break this up.
The viscera (internal organs) are connected through nerves and connective tissue to other parts of the body, including skin and musculoskeletal tissue, says Esparham. “So if skin and musculoskeletal tissue are affected by chronic pain, for example, it can affect the visceral organ it connects to over time.”
But is it safe? After all, it’s a type of something odd for a stranger’s fingers to be poking around between your most valuable goods.
“We don’t recommend visceral massage to our patients because there isn’t currently enough information about it,” says Chiaramonte. Nevertheless, “the technique is generally fairly gentle and, if done this way by a trained professional, is likely to be safe.”
So if you really want to try something to cure your constipation or abdominal pain and want to go the natural path? Perhaps organ massage is right for you - just make sure you get an approval from your GP, and see a legit professional (not some random person offering “free massage” cards on the street). But if you wish to eliminate stress, get a good zen, or loosen up some tight muscles? Maybe stay with an ordinary massage or sports massage instead.