Have you ever wondered . . .
What your abdominal organs are doing (other than seriously stressing you out)?
As a practitioner, I have worked with so many bellies, I have studied at so many illustrations, pictures, and models that I forget that most people don’t have a clear idea of just what it is they’re referencing when they talk about their organs.
Everyone’s body is different, of course, but there are a few physical universals that it helps to keep in mind when you are thinking about or working with your belly.
As you read through this, put your hands on your own belly and see if you can feel or guess at feeling some of these structures that everyone has. If you want more information about this, sign up for the free Getting Started program!
1. Our abdominal organs do not exist in isolation. For one thing, we have muscles. Skin (an organ), the superficial layer of fascia (which includes adipose, or fat, tissue) and the superficial muscles keep our guts and other organs safely inside our body. We tend to think of these muscles in terms of the six-pack muscles of rectus abdominus or the “side” muscles of the obliques, but there are other muscles just below those (before the organs get started) that help to protect our insides and keep our digestive processes flowing properly.
There are also muscles on the “back” side of our organs, literally they are up against and attach to our spine. So, our organs are hugged by strong and varied muscles on the front, sides, and back.
2. Our organs are not free-floating. We tend to think of our organs as just sort of existing and maybe magically floating around inside of our bellies and ribcage (much the way this misleading picture looks). But, they are not. Our organs are tethered to our skeleton in much the same way as muscles are with tendons and ligaments. These suspensory ligaments are what keep the intestines from falling down and smooshing the bladder, they are what keep the stomach and liver from falling down and smooshing the intestines, etc. There is also a sack of fascia, called the peritoneal sac, which holds many of our organs inside of it.
3. Organs need blood flow just like everything else in our body. The organs have their own arteries and blood vessels that bring them blood which allows oxygen, nutrients, and necessary chemicals to travel around and keep things running smoothly.
4. Our organs are intimately connected to our central nervous system. Nerves innervate our organs, carrying instructions and information from the brain through the spinal cord and back again (our hormones are integral to this process). This incredibly complex system is affected by everything from our stress level to our hydration level to our quality and length of sleep, just to name a few biggies.
5. Overall function of our abdominal organs is supported (and sometimes hindered) by all of the above. If muscles are too locked down or stuck to what’s around them . . . if the structures that help loft our organs and keep them in place have been removed or are otherwise compromised by scar tissue or adhesion . . . if our organs are not receiving adequate blood flow, or we are not hydrated enough to keep our blood flowing easily through our veins . . . if our nervous system is unable to process information adequately . . . then we get patterns of restriction, dysfunction, and often pain.
The beautiful thing is that all of these things can be directly addressed (if not always completely resolved) by direct manual therapy and basic health maintenance through adequate hydration and healthy eating and maintaining a workable stress level.
Speaking of manual therapy/massage . . .
In terms of manual therapy, you can work on your own belly or find a practitioner you want to work with to help you. And the other beautiful thing is that manual therapy has a huge positive impact on stress levels and overall wellbeing, in addition to the direct physical affect it can have on adhesions and other tissue restrictions.
Take one last look at the illustration of the digestive organs above. Notice how there is all that white space between the organs? Well, that doesn’t exist in our bodies. There is no “white space” between our organs. They are all tucked very snugly together in our abdomens, relying on each other for physical support and often for healthy mobility. We can help them maintain that health through intentional touch.
I hope you’ll take a bit of time to feel into your own belly organs and see if you can imagine all of these beautiful structures and processes under your hands.
- Isabel Spradlin is a Registered Nurse (RN), Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT), and abdominal adhesion specialist in Portland, OR. She specializes in educating people about manual treatment (massage) for abdominal pain and dysfunction, especially when it is adhesion related. Please see the "Programs" page to see her offerings.