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Digestion and Osteopathy

Osteopathy mostly focuses on problems with muscles and joints, but also has roots in more general health. We consider the whole person when assessing and managing problems. Digestion, including problems like IBS, may respond to osteopathy.


How Digestion Affects the Rest of the Body

When you have abdominal pain, you may be inclined to curl forwards. It might be subtle, but this can still have an effect on the rest of the body. Prolonged hunching can tighten the muscles on the front of the body and weaken those on the back.

The shoulders are a good example of this. Whether it is pain or your desk that leads you to hunch forward for long periods, the body reacts the same. The muscles at the front of the shoulders tighten, leading to tension in the pectoral muscles. Some muscles that act on the shoulder blades are under-utilised, so become weak. A cycle begins in which the shoulders are pulled further forwards by the tight chest muscles. If this causes stiffness in the upper back, the neck and lower back may need to compensate for lost movement. Your osteopath will be able to identify these patterns at your appointment.

Sometimes the symptoms caused by abdominal problems are hard to pin down. If tension causes the diaphragm to tighten, you might find yourself developing aches and pains around the shoulders and ribcage. Left unchecked, changes to breathing can lead to neck tightness and headaches.

Digestive Symptoms and Musculoskeletal Problems

During your first appointment, we take a detailed case history. This includes various body systems, including digestion. One reason for this is that there are links between muscle and joint pains and some digestive disorders. Lower back pain caused by Ankylosing Spondylitis can be hard to identify, but its strong links with Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis can mean a quicker diagnosis. These inflammatory bowel diseases are also related to Rheumatoid Arthritis and some other rheumatic diseases. Even if they are not conditions you suffer with yourself, if a close family member has been diagnosed, that may be relevant.

We also need to know if your symptoms might be coming directly from the digestive system. Some organs, like the gall bladder, can cause pain elsewhere in the body. Assessment of the painful area as well as any digestive symptoms you may have will lead to diagnosis.

Osteopathy and Digestion

There are theories that clicking a joint in the back affects the nerves that run nearby. Extrapolating this idea, there may be a link between clicking a joint and affecting the organs of digestion. One study appeared to show improvement in IBS symptoms for people who had spinal manipulations.

Osteopaths spend a lot of time working on muscles. We mentioned involvement of the diaphragm earlier: this is a sheet of muscle that runs around the lowest ribs. Its main function is to help the lungs inflate and deflate, but it has a secondary role in preventing reflux. The oesophagus runs through the diaphragm before meeting the stomach, so the diaphragm acts like another sphincter. If it is dysfunctional, it may be a factor in heartburn or reflux symptoms. As the muscle runs between the ribs, it is just about accessible for direct treatment. Breathing exercises can also have a strong effect on it- if they are appropriate your osteopath will advise you.


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