Kew Beach Naturopathic Clinic

Putting the "care" back in healthcare

Irritable Bowel Syndrome: An Osteopathic Approach

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By Emmanuel Boissonnier

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is defined as “abdominal pain or discomfort that occurs in association with altered bowel habits – like constipation or diarrhea – over a period of at least three months.”  According to The Canadian Digestive  Health  Foundation, Canada has one of the highest rates of IBS in the world with five million Canadians currently suffering.  To understand how osteopathy manual manipulation can improve IBS, it’s important to know the etiology and understand the relationship that exists between your brain and your belly/abdomen.

Etiology of IBS remains uncertain, but according to the latest studies, IBS appears to be a nervous and hormonal deregulation between the brain and the gut.  Moreover, since the recent finding of Michael D. Gershon MD, we know that the digestive system has its own brain, called the Enteric Nervous System.  The “second brain” as it is also called, controls motor activity, hormonal secretion and vascularization.  Your 2 brains, one in your skull and one in your gut, communicate with each other via nerves that are in close relationship with your spine.

Osteopathic treatment via manual visceral manipulation will balance and improve the mobility of the colon and other close organs in order to improve motor activity and vascularization.  On the other hand, spine manipulations have an effect on the nerves that participate in the autonomic control of the gastrointestinal functioning. There is a nerve correspondence between your spine and digestive system.  Each vertebra encases nerves that transmit signals to organs.  Moreover, a number of structures in your brain are connected with your gut via serotonoergic and cholinergic nerves. Cranial therapy can help to improve blood, nerve and hormonal communication between head and abdomen.

Osteopathy can improve bowel movement and relieve abdominal pain but also the other symptoms commonly associated with IBS, like heartburn, nausea, fatigue, feeling of urgency, muscle pain, sleep disturbance, low back pain, headache, etc.

My 4 osteopathic tips to improve your IBS are:

  1. Consult an Osteopath (3 times per year).
  2. Consult a Naturopathic Doctor to adapt diet and prescribe herbal medicine.
  3. Engage in physical activity (30 minutes, 3 times per week), to improve peristalsis and improve circulation.
  4. Decrease your stress (yoga, relaxation, abdominal breathing, physical activity).


  1. Gershon MD. The enteric nervous system: a second brain. Hosp Pract (1995). 1999 Jul 15;34(7):31-2, 35-8, 41-2.
  2. Brandt L J, et al. An evidence-based position statement on the management of irritable bowel syndrome. Am J Gastroenterol. 2009;104 (Suppl 1):S1–S35.
  3. The Canadian Digestive Health Foundation website.




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