Gut Feeling, Gut Ache, Gut Instinct, Gut Sick, Follow Your Gut…


A topic that comes up more personally for me regarding health, touch, and the physical body is an understanding of digestive imbalances; how stress and emotions affect and can create digestive problems, how this affects our muscles and physical posturing, how diet obviously can create digestive imbalances which can in turn maintain difficulties with diet, and how complicated patterns arise from these situations, looping around over and over. With digestion and the abdominal region there’s much to potentially discuss,  so I’d focus as usual on one small area, this time in the upper abdomen. Located directly beneath the sternum, commonly called the solar plexus, or celiac plexus in anatomical terms, covered by the superior aspect of the rectus abdominus, this is the first soft spot in the anterior torso after coming down from the ribs. It seems fitting somehow that this less protected area can be vulnerable to emotional stress along with physical pain showing in our digestive organs and proximal muscles.

Congenital illnesses aside and a physician always recommended when symptoms are severe, imagine the basic upset stomach. Whether from food, stress, emotions, or all the above, and whether the pain is from the stomach versus the intestines, when there’s pain in the abdomen we generally flex forward towards it. Our rib cage tilts in, our abdominals get “cramped” space-wise, and our mid thoracic back gets over-stretched. Already in abdominal pain, now there’s an added strip of muscular pain going across the mid back, below the scapula blades and above the base of the ribs. Since the anterior torso muscles flex us forward and the posterior torso muscles bring us back to being upright or further into extension, the aforementioned posture literally tilts musculoskeletal structure, and thus function, off its balance and creates pain. A challenging posture to come out of depending on how ill digestion is, but when physically able, lying on a flat hard surface can be a nice start to regaining that balance, easing out of muscular pain front to back and giving the abdomen space to breathe, expand, and calm.  Carpeted floor and covering up with a blanket for warmth is a good idea. Warm muscles are easier to bring out of spasm or cramping versus cold tight ones, and the solidity of the ground makes for welcome support as we coax muscles open.

As for touch, again how the digestion is will determine what can be done, but laying a palm on the area right below the sternum is warm and stabilizing. It lends a sense of calm, caring, and even an embracing of the spot while focusing the breath into it and then through into the posterior ribs, expanding the rib cage gently out. This can be done during a massage with the client on the table, too. Once digestion has leveled some, bodywork feels amazing in helping sweep soreness out of the muscles. Taking pain out of the body can also help affect things systemically since less energy is spent by our bodies trying to address pain, and more attention can be directed towards healing system imbalances instead.

  1. After laying a palm on the area and practicing deeper breathing, gentle exploration of the tissue underneath the sternum and along the bottom ribs near the sternum’s base can be done. Gentle is the key as digestive organs once upset generally take a while to calm back down.
  2. Alternating hands, use supported flat fingers with moderate to light pressure and sweep down from the base of the sternum and out along the edges of the medial base of the ribs near the inferior sternum.
  3. Placing easy sustained pressure on any tender spots can help open up this area all the way into the posterior back, acknowledging the interplay between regions.  A common trigger point sometimes resides to the side of the sternal base, close to the edge of the ribs (a trigger point is a hyper irritable, small spot in the muscle fibers that remains contracted). With some gentle sustained pressure held for several seconds on this trigger point – try at least 10 – a pain referral and pattern often light up across that mid back region.
  4. Opening up the soft tissue along the bottom of the anterior ribs, focusing around that celiac plexus zone, mid back pain can start to ebb or even clear away, easier breathing can be restored, the digestive area literally has more room to heal, and a burden all of a sudden seems removed off our backs.

Much of the time when things are complicated, keeping it simple, taking small steps, and moving forward accordingly is not only the best we can do, it might be what we have to do. The very human reality of how we all tend to “get in our own way” comes to mind. Pain pushes us to our limits, so forgiving our own impatience and chaotic thoughts and feelings of that moment, consider the aforementioned simple example as useable support, the kind we often need in these off-balance moments. Breathe, take a simple step, be present, and be kind. Whether via bodywork or self-attendance, the solidity of a warm palm laid to rest on this curled in zone of pain says volumes without ever saying a word.


Copyright © by Lara Stillo 2017



I have been licensed and working full time in the massage therapy field since 2001, teaching and writing MT courses since 2006. My experience has led me through working with several different chiropractors, hotel and boutique spas, corporate massage, a climbing gym wellness center, private practice, two different massage schools, one acupuncture/massage college, and my current capacity of working with physical therapy clinics and their patients. And the learning continues…

4 thoughts on “Gut Feeling, Gut Ache, Gut Instinct, Gut Sick, Follow Your Gut…

  1. I love the wisdom and compassion that radiate from your posts, Lara. Although I have no background in massage, you always leave me with something valuable (tonight’s lesson: “Much of the time when things are complicated, keeping it simple, taking small steps, and moving forward accordingly is not only the best we can do, it might be what we have to do.”). I will bookmark this post for reference next time my hubby’s belly is unhappy due to some lupus-related inflammation or unwise dietary choice. 🙂 Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You really do give the most genuine compliments in the most lovely words, Heather! Very grateful. – Lupus is quite tricky. I’m sorry your husband must juggle this imbalance. Food being such a primal need yet also its own artistic and social joy, walking a fine-line with it is very difficult to maddening. I feel for him. But I do believe we can find our own individual balance points and remain there much or most of the time 😉 Wishes for solid balance for your husband and his health, ongoing =)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I do mean every word, Lara! I am in awe not only of how much you know, but also how you expand your knowledge of the body into much broader spheres of our lives. Thank you also for your kind words about my hubby’s health. Mostly he’s philosophical about it — but occasionally he throws caution to the wind knowing full well there may be consequences. (Because after all, shouldn’t we practice everything in moderation, including moderation itself? 🙂 It during those times I will be standing by with my new-found knowledge on how to soothe the savage belly.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. =)! I’m also a fan of moderation. It sounds like your husband walks a good line (and you’re there to support 🙂 We do have to enjoy life while we’re here, after all. And wow, if I inspire awe, I am grateful I’m going the right direction with what I’m presenting! Thank you for that =)))

        Liked by 1 person

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