The Benefits of a Visceral Abdominal Massage 

The Benefits of a Visceral Abdominal Massage 

We all know the feeling of tight muscles. Many people seek bodily relief with massages, saunas, hot tubs, and other relaxation techniques, but what about our organ-related muscles on the inside? There are thirty feet of intestines and the stomach that are made up of smooth muscle.  They can get tight, go into spasms, and cause pain, gas, and discomfort just as much as the skeletal muscles on the outside. 

Ayurveda has one of the most sophisticated systems of massage compared to any other healthcare system.  The system includes  “two therapists to one patient” massages and treatments for the lymph, muscles, nerves, brain, and abdomen. It would be impossible to get a traditional Ayurvedic massage and not have them deeply massage the abdomen. 

In Ayurveda, the ‘seat of vata’  (which is the nervous system) resides in the lower abdomen. According to Ayurveda, 80% of the body’s health concerns stem from vata imbalances. It is then further said that 85% of all disease starts in the digestive tract. We now know that there is a brain-gut connection suggesting that the stressors we endure will impact the nervous system and digestive systems. We can meditate for the mental stress and get massages for the physical stress, but we overlook the digestive stress that haunts 74% of the American population. 

In This Article

What is a Visceral Massage?

To help with this digestive stress, we can do a simple abdominal massage of the viscera (internal organs). An animal study found that visceral abdominal massage can support gut immunity and improve gut motility, visceral hypersensitivity, and IBS symptoms.  Abdominal visceral massage was once an accepted method of treating constipation. Though it has fallen out of fashion, recent research suggests it may be a practical option to help manage constipation. This research shows that abdominal massage can stimulate peristalsis and support healthy, normal bowel function in patients with long-standing constipation.

In a study, 220 adults over 65 who received a daily 30-minute abdominal massage for 8 weeks not only saw significant improvements in their bowel function, but they also reported statistically significant improvements in anxiety, physical disability, and psychosocial discomfort.

The Diaphragm Connection

Let’s not forget about one of the body’s most important muscles which makes up a big part of the abdominal cavity: the diaphragm. This is not just a breathing muscle. It is the main pump for the body’s lymphatic system, most of which is found wrapped around the intestines. The lymph is trying to carry toxins off the intestines. It is responsible for gut immunity (which is 70% of the body’s immune system) and delivers properly digested fat to every cell of the body for baseline energy. Poor diaphragmatic function is chronic due to stress, lack of exercise, frequent sitting, and poor breathing habits. In a study on athletes, 91% of them did not have a diaphragm that was relaxing and contracting fully, suggesting that most of us in the general population do not either.

Take the First Step in Strengthening Your Diaphragm with These Three Exercises 

Udvarta: Upward-Moving Digestion

Anatomically, the stomach resides very close to (and just below) the diaphragm. Stress, poor breathing, congestion of the liver + gallbladder, or constipation can all cause the stomach to hold onto food longer than it normally would. With the food lingering in the stomach, it can ferment. This can cause gas, bloat, burping, belching, and nausea. In Ayurveda, this is called udvarta or upward-moving digestion. In Western medicine, it is called gastroparesis when the stomach is slow to empty. As the stomach expands or bloats, it pushes up and can sometimes adhere to the underside of the diaphragm, causing dysfunction in both the stomach and diaphragm. In extreme cases, the stomach can herniate through the diaphragm. This causes something called a hiatal hernia, which is linked to reflux and a host of health concerns. 

There are many herbal remedies for this type of imbalance; however, more often than not, breathing exercises and upper abdominal visceral massage are also necessary to break up the adhesions between the stomach and the diaphragm.

Several studies have found that an upper abdominal visceral massage can be an effective alternative treatment for bouts of indigestion and heartburn. In one such study, 30 patients with GERD were given a myofascial release below the rib cage while the other group received a placebo therapy. The group of patients who received the real massage reported better gastrointestinal quality of life and reduced need for PPI medication after just four weeks of treatment.

See also Learn Stomach Pulling for Support of Indigestion and Heartburn  

Abdominal Visceral Massage Supports Overall Digestive Health

In a review of ten studies with a total of 464 patients, researchers evaluated abdominal massage for a variety of health concerns. The results were impressive. They concluded that abdominal massage alleviates constipation in patients with neurological, oncological, and age-related health concerns. Three of the studies reported that abdominal massage helped decrease abdominal distension (swelling) and waistline. Two of the studies showed that the massage caused more efficient stomach emptying, which can help with bloat, gas, and indigestion. 

In another research review and analysis, researchers examined critically ill patients who were having trouble getting adequate nutrition. They evaluated abdominal massage for nutrition support. The review, covering seven studies and over 400 patients, determined that indeed the patients who received abdominal massage had less vomiting, better nutrition, less abdominal distention, and a decreased risk of getting pneumonia.  

Dr. John’s Favorite Visceral Abdominal Massage Technique

If you have a medical condition, please check with your primary doctor before engaging in an abdominal massage; alternatively, seek out a professional visceral massage therapist. For those who are healthy, have minor digestive issues, and are looking for preventative support, I have found that using a muscle-vibrating device is the easiest way to give yourself a regular abdominal visceral massage. Any massager will do. I use the VYPER Vibrating Roller every morning. I roll out my legs, back, neck, chest, and abdomen with this roller. It has three vibration intensity settings that allow you to individualize your massage to your comfort level.

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Gratefully,
Dr. John

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