Shoulder pain and the viscera (your organs)

 In Osteopathy

This past month at Melville Osteopathy, we have been looking at a variety of ways Osteopaths assess and treat shoulder pain.

One of the interesting (and we believe) wonderful aspects of Osteopathy is the holistic approach to examining dysfunction and pain in the body. 

An Osteopath will consider all bodily systems when seeking  to understand the origin of the problem.

 Sometimes, the source of the pain or issue although presenting as  mechanical or musculo-skeletal  may actually be caused by a different system in the body .  

Visceral osteopathy, developed by French Osteopath Jean-Pierre Barral in the 1970’s is an Osteopathic method that treats imbalances in the body through assessing and treating the viscera ( internal organs). According to visceral osteopathy, there are signs that may help to identify whether the viscera may be contributing to the pain or issues displayed. If this is suspected, an osteopathic practitioner may refer the patient for further tests to identify whether there are indeed issues in the organs. 

There are a number of ways issues in the viscera (organs) might display as pain in the shoulder.

Firstly, nerve fibers originating at  the shoulder feed into the spinal cord on the same level as nerves from the viscera. Because of this the brain sometimes misinterprets painful visceral stimuli for more common signals caused by mechanical or musculo-skeletal issues in the shoulder and so interprets the pain to be at the shoulder. Some examples include lung issues i.e. pneumonia, abdominal problems i.e. gallstones or heart problems i.e. pericarditis. 

Secondly, the body may display ‘adaptation’ – changing into compensatory posture because of the pain or irritation in the viscera which in turn leads to actual mechanical issues in the shoulder. In these cases the patient may have both visceral issues and mechanical shoulder issues.

There are two primary causes for this – visceral discomfort can cause the body to slump forward into a protective posture. The shoulders to allow regular arm functioning must compensate for this postural change by moving differently to normal. Over time this can cause mechanical shoulder dysfunction such as subacromial bursitis or frozen shoulder. Alternatively, correct or breathing diaphragm can  press on irritated viscera causing discomfort. The body then compensates for discomfort by breathing with the upper ribs, neck and shoulder muscles, resulting in these regions becoming overworked and painful. 

Visceral techniques can be used for treatment as well as diagnosis. An Osteopath can assess and possibly improve healthy functioning of the organs in two main ways; mobility – the ability of the organ to be moved around inside the body; and motility – the ability of the organ to expand,contract or rotate on its own axis. The osteopath achieves this by working on the organ itself or the connective tissues between the organs. 

One of the distinguishing features of Osteopathy as a manual treatment modality is this attention to the whole body and the interconnected relationships between all parts and systems.

For more information about how the broad field of Osteopathy may help you, our overarching body Osteopathy Australia is a wealth of information and resources.


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