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Manual Therapy and Nutritional Wellness for GI-Related Pain

December 6, 2013

Food is an intrinsic part of most cultures. Whether it is ‘inhaled’ or savored, in small or large quantities, it has been known to define us in many ways. “You are what you eat”—how many times have we heard that saying? But how many of us actually feel good when we eat, or shortly following a meal? Many of us suffer from chronic or occasional abdominal pain and other symptoms, such as cramping, gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. These symptoms are often exacerbated with certain types of food. But for most people, which foods cause the symptoms is a mystery.

Discussion about leaky gut syndrome has become more common in alternative and traditional communities. Leaky gut occurs when there is a loss of integrity in the wall of our digestive tract. This weakness in the wall limits our body’s ability to absorb nutrients and creates a passageway for toxins to travel in our body.

There are several great ways to promote health in our digestive tract and to reduce digestive symptoms such as pain, gas, bloating, and bowel irregularities. Here are two approaches.

Nutritional Wellness for the Gut

Commonly, when we experience pain or discomfort in our gut, it is secondary to unknown food allergies. While there are many diets and cleanses on the market today that are aimed at promoting overall health of the body, a simpler approach that can lead to optimal health is to discover what foods we react to and eliminate them from our diet. Lower bowel discomfort, such as bloating, gas, constipation, and pain, can be caused by certain foods we eat. A great way to initiate a healthy diet is to reduce foods that increase inflammation in our gut.

Wheat, Rye, Barley, Oats

Let’s begin with gluten, a protein that is found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats. It has been widely researched and found to be pro-inflammatory, meaning it creates inflammation in the body. Inflammation causes disease. One way to reduce inflammation in our gut is to eliminate gluten from our diet. For information and tools on gluten elimination diets, visit The best way to be optimally successful with this diet is to embrace it as a family. You will be surprised by the number of symptoms that can be eased or eliminated by this diet. Inflammatory foods can contribute to symptoms beyond the gut—they can lead to learning and attention deficits, headaches and back pain, fatigue, joint pain, mood disorders, neurological issues, and much more. By eliminating inflammatory foods, especially gluten, we can see a change in all of these types of symptoms.

Vegetables and Water

Many people who experience gut-related symptoms such as pain and discomfort not only eat a lot of inflammatory foods, but also don’t eat enough of the right kinds of food. For example, it is ideal for us to eat at least three servings of green, leafy vegetables daily to support elimination of toxins in our body. In addition, many of us are dehydrated. Drinking juice, soda and coffee throughout the day does not provide us with optimal hydration. In fact, a variety of symptoms can be related to dehydration, including gut pain and discomfort. Drinking at least 8 to 10 glasses of water daily is a great way to reduce symptoms.

Integrative Manual Therapy for the Gut

Good nutrition can lead to optimal health and many of the strategies listed above help to reduce inflammation throughout our digestive tract. But when the gut is weak, having other tools can be helpful to promote healthier functioning of our digestive tract. One such tool is Integrative Manual Therapy (IMT). IMT is a hands-on approach to healing. IMT Therapists (often physical therapists, occupational therapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, and body workers) use their hands to help reduce restrictions in the muscles and soft tissues of our abdomen. IMT can help to promote normal circulation to the tissues of the gut as well as drainage from these tissues to promote healthier elimination of toxins.

In addition to addressing the gut specifically, there are other reasons why we might be suffering from gut-related pain and other types of symptoms. Our body’s ability to protect itself is remarkable. When an organ or tissue is compromised because of toxicity or a general weakness in the tissue, our body will attempt to limit movement of that organ and around the organ to protect it from further compromise. In this scenario, the joints in the region can become compressed, the muscles can go into spasm, and the soft tissues or fascia in the region can tighten. This protective mode can maintain our ability to function, however the lack of mobility can create pain and stiffness.

To illustrate this common phenomenon, let’s consider the bowel and some well-known symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and gas. Often, when there is inflammation of the bowel secondary to a build-up of toxins in the body, irritable bowel symptoms may manifest. The end of the colon begins at the left groin/hip region and travels from the left side into the inner pelvis. As a common protective mode, because the wall of the bowel may be weak and inflamed, the body will compress around the region to limit movement. This lack of movement may be achieved by a compression of the left hip, a tightening of the fascial tissues in the region, and even muscle spasm of the hip and pelvic muscles. All of this tension can create alignment issues with the bottom of the spine, at the sacrum. In addition to the bowel-related issues, this compression and lack of movement may contribute to low back pain, hip pain, and overall stiffness in the region. By using IMT, gentle hands-on treatment can correct the alignment problem, reducing the compression and tension in the region, and promoting normal circulation and drainage at the bowel, thereby, helping to strengthen the bowel tissues.

When there is more movement in the body, there is a greater capacity for drainage of toxins. Integrative Manual Therapy is an advanced form of manual therapy that can get to the heart of the problem by localizing underlying toxicity and inflammation that may be a root cause. By using IMT to treat the underlying problem, and incorporating a healthy diet to help reduce inflammation and promote elimination of toxins, a long-term answer can be found.


Ayelet Connell-Giammatteo, PhD, PT, IMT,C is the Practice Manager and Director of Pediatrics for Regional Physical Therapy and The Institute of Integrative Manual Therapy (IIMT), headquartered in Bloomfield, CT. She is also the Dean of the Connecticut School of Integrative Manual Therapy (CSIMT). Dr. Connell-Giammatteo has taught courses in IMT nationally and internationally for over 15 years. She received her doctoral degree focusing in neuropediatrics, with a concentration in autism.


Dr. Connell-Giammatteo is a Physical Therapist and Certified Integrative Manual Therapist. She has been practicing in the field of IMT for over 15 years. Dr. Connell-Giammatteo is a graduate of the Institute of Functional Medicine’s program “Applying Functional Medicine into Clinical Practice” focusing on nutritional wellness. She is also a local of this community and has been living in the Greater Hartford area for many years. In addition to managing the clinical and educational arms of IMT, she also integrates a healthy lifestyle at home with her husband, children, and dogs.

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