Functional digestive problems including acid reflux, indigestion, and chronic constipation are surprisingly common. Often, once the GP is satisfied there’s no underlying disease to be treated, patients are prescribed long-term medications such as laxatives or Omeprazole to ease their symptoms. The root cause of the symptoms remains untreated, and patients start to assume they just have to learn to live with it.
I’ve seen many such people, who initially might make an appointment for a back, neck or shoulder problem. During the case history, they mention their digestive issue, and are often surprised to learn that digestive problems are something that osteopaths can treat. In fact, we can often completely fix the original cause of the problem, meaning no more long-term reflux medications or laxatives!
Here’s what one patient said recently in a Google review: “Marianne has worked wonders on my back which was the original reason for treatment, however, during this process she has treated other issues I have such as indigestion and a sluggish bowel. After 20 years I no longer reach for the Rennie thanks to Marianne’s marvellous healing hands!”.
Understanding the nerve supply to the diaphragm and bowel helps us to understand why things go wrong with the digestive system, and how osteopathy can help fix the problem. Osteopaths consider that many cases of reflux (sometimes called heartburn, or indigestion) are caused by a structural problem influencing the diaphragm, the dome-shaped muscular sheet which the oesophagus (food tube) has to pass through to reach the stomach. This might be due to a neck problem affecting the nerve supply to the muscle – the Phrenic nerve exits the 3rd to 5th cervical (neck) segments of the spine – or through changes in the mobility of the spine and ribs around the attachments of the diaphragm itself, which alters how easily food can pass through the opening to the stomach.
Bowel motility (how quickly food passes through the digestive system) is controlled by the autonomic nervous system – a subconscious ‘autopilot’ which tells the gut to speed up or slow down. This nerve supply comes from several areas- the Vagus nerve for example starts directly from the brain, passes down the sides of the neck and through the chest to the abdomen; other nerves called the sympathetic chain pass directly out of the thoracic (ribcage) area of spine; while the sacral nerves start at the back of the pelvis (sacrum) and control the last part of the bowel. Osteopaths understand that a lack of mobility in areas affecting these nerves can have a knock-on effect on the structures they supply- in this case, the gut.
My last example is the perfect case of someone who had given up hope of things ever changing. Mrs R came to see me with a bad back a couple of months ago. She had bowel cancer 6 years before, and had surgery to remove the last part of the bowel. Since then, she had chronic constipation which meant she couldn’t pass stools for 6 days at a time, and had to take lots of laxatives. This was seriously affecting her lifestyle. Within a few treatments, she said she was ‘regular’, not having to take laxatives and finally had the confidence to go on a camping trip!
So if you have a nagging digestive problem, don’t be shy – come and find out for yourself how effective osteopathy is.