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Prolapse, Ptosis And Posture

by Joel Carbonnel(more info)

listed in bodywork, originally published in issue 193 - April 2012

Francoise Mezieres was fond of saying "what is beautiful functions well". Good shape is not only a beauty asset; it is also an important factor of health.

The opposite is obviously true: what is distorted cannot function properly; departure from the normal shape leads to disorders of all the various systems of the body.  In my previous columns I have mainly focussed on the musculo-skeletal system, but acquired deformities also cause visceral impairments which can be as debilitating and painful as the ones affecting the musculo-skeletal system. So to redress the balance I am here going to turn my attention to the visceral system.

The word viscera refers to the organs contained within the trunk. There are a lot of them but in ideal conditions (good shape) they are nicely packed and wrapped in a way which allows for the normal mobility they need. But let your shape go to pot and this impressive mass of organs becomes a mess. In a chronically stooped and slouched body, the lungs will be cramped and the abdominal and pelvic organs will lack room and be dragged away from their natural positions and support. This visceral mal-position often leads to conditions such as hernia, haemorrhoids, urinary incontinence, prolapse and ptosis.

The word ptosis means 'to fall'; it is defined as the prolapse of an organ (isn't it nice when the dictionary explains a word with another word which may be as obscure to you as the first one - you end up reading the whole dictionary). Prolapse is a slipping forward or down of a part or organ from its normal position, frequently into a cavity. So, gasteroptosis is a 'fallen' stomach;  enteroptosis, a 'fallen' intestine;  visceroptosis, 'fallen' guts. The rectum and the uterus can also suffer from prolapses. Hernia could be conceived as a form of prolapse.

Hyperlordosis, an excess of the inward curvatures of the spine, is the mother of all distortions. Under the chronic shortening of the muscular chains, the spine has no choice but to shorten via a deepening of its two lordoses; this in turn alters the position of the muscles and organs which are attached directly or indirectly to it.

The diaphragm muscle is especially interesting in this connection. The liver, the gallbladder, the spleen and the stomach are attached to it, rising and falling with each of its motions. The large intestine which is attached to the lower border of the stomach is also subject to these excursions. The position of these organs is thus dependent on the position of the diaphragm. In the drooped posture, the chest becomes flat and the sternum may become vertical instead of being, as in an ideal shape, at an angle of 30o to the spine. In this drooped posture, the diaphragm is low or ptotic which means that during quiet breathing, its position can be at that at full inspiration. If the diaphragm is down, all the organs directly or indirectly attached to it are also down.

Moreover, the excursions of a diaphragm in a low position will be limited and, consequently, breathing will be restricted. But the diaphragm is not only for breathing; it also assists venous circulation and that is why it is sometimes referred to as the second heart or the venous heart. With a diaphragm in a chronically low position, the venous return loses a precious aid; the resulting inefficient blood circulation can lead to congestion of the abdominal and pelvic organs and even partial stagnation of the blood in the legs as is seen in varicose veins. And that is not all. Because the heart is 'sitting' on the diaphragm and has fascial connections with it, a sagging diaphragm will also drag down the heart, aorta and the great vessels.

In the ideal shape and posture, from a side-view, a line drawn from the nipples to the pubic bone should be straight - in other words, the part of the abdominal wall below the navel should be flat. With this shape, all the abdominal viscera, apart from the lower portion of the colon, the sigmoid, and a small part of the small intestine, will be found to be above the navel.

In bad shape, the lower abdomen is often protuberant, the entire colon may be situated below the iliac crests when the individual is standing, and the abdominal viscera may be mostly below the navel when they should be in the epigastrium. In these conditions, the abdominal viscera have been pushed out of position and now they exert a damaging pressure on the pelvic organs.

Enter pelvic floor disorders such as vaginal or uterine prolapse, haemorrhoids, rectal incontinence of flatus or faeces, and urinary incontinence.

Instantaneous relief can be obtained from the use of a slanting board - you lie down, in a supine position, head down, on a board inclined at about 30°. In this position, the downward drag of the sagged viscera on their attachments is markedly reduced and the feeling of heaviness and compression disappears. In the case of hernia, the traction produced by the dependent position of the body forces the internal organs to fall backwards towards the diaphragm and away from the hernial opening. Resting on the slanting board will greatly relieve the uncomfortable dragging-down sensation that usually accompanies hernia.

The use of the slanting board is a beneficial but palliative approach and harmless unless you remain satisfied with it and keep on ignoring the primary cause, which is the departure from the ideal shape.

Don't be gutted by my description of the visceral debacle. Visceral bliss can be restored in most cases once the body is returned to the shape nature intended.

Herbert M. Shelton. The Hygienic System. Vol.IV. Orthokinesiology. dr Shelton's Health School. San Antonio, Texas. 1956.
Joel Ernest Goldthwait. Body Mechanics in Health and Disease. 1945.


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About Joel Carbonnel

Joel Carbonnel is unique in combining the disciplines of the Alexander Technique (STAT), the Mezieres Methode (AME), Morphopsychology (SFM), and Natural Hygiene (ISI). From this synthesis he has developed Orthomorphics which is centered around the close relationship of Use, Form and Function. He practises in London and Haywards Heath, and can be contacted on Tel: 020-8747 8583;

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