By: Kyle D. McIntyre, PT, DPT, CFMT

In general, people don’t think about their organs when they experience pain; and the stomach, specifically, is often overlooked regarding overall health. It’s really a very important organ: mechanically, (when we eat) the stomach begins churning; while, chemically, enzymes are secreted that break down the food we digest.

What happens when something ‘goes wrong’ with your stomach? People are often aware of what are called “referral patterns” that certain organs have, such as the heart. We all know, for example, that someone having a heart attack may feel symptoms in their left arm or back versus their chest.

Each organ has its own unique referral pattern. So, even if your stomach isn’t in an obvious state of distress, it can still cause referral symptoms throughout your body. One of the stomach’s (and other organs’) referral patterns is musculoskeletal pain.

In my field of functional manual therapy (FMT), organs, such as the stomach, have become an area of increasing focus over the years. What are other signs of stomach-health issues, why does it happen, and how can manual therapy help?

In addition to the referral patterns, organs take up a lot of real estate in the human body. Your trunk (where your stomach is located) is tightly compacted with organs. Each organ needs to move and have room for healthy function of ligament and connective tissue attachments.

If the stomach organ becomes tight or restricted – from a lack of movement, a trauma or blow to the area, or scar tissue from a surgery – movement of your trunk and limbs can be restricted, which can put more stress on your muscles and joints.

Your stomach, therefore, can have associated skeletal restrictions and emotional consequences. Skeletally, your stomach can cause or refer pain to the left side of your neck, your mid-thoracic and upper lumbar spine, your left SI (sacroiliac) joint, and your left shoulder. Emotionally, your stomach represents the social, professional self, which produces the image we give or want to give.

Some signs of mechanical stomach dysfunctions include: left-sided headaches and sinus issues; a heavy appetite with a feeling of quickly filling-up or bloated after eating; heartburn or regurgitation; and/or heart symptoms (such as arrhythmias).

Assessment and manual treatment (by a qualified functional manual therapy practitioner) of your stomach, along with the other organs in your trunk, can improve body mobility and resolution of musculoskeletal pain. FMT can also improve digestion and reduce chronic and sudden conditions, such as bloating and heartburn.

Kyle is a Physical Therapist with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy; he is also a Certified Functional Manual Therapist.