Constipation is a common condition that causes less frequent bowel movements, pain, and bloating in the back and waist of adults.1,2 Massage can be an effective treatment for constipation.
Constipation is caused by hardened stool that cannot easily move through the colon or large intestine. Many factors can cause constipation such as a change in diet, medication, abdominal surgery, or stress.1
Studies show constipation is a disorder that becomes more common in adults with age.2
Often, colon transit tests are used to determine if an adult has constipation. If the test shows that bowel transit rate has decreased, then the adult is likely constipated.1,6
How is constipation treated?
Constipation can be treated by eating foods high in fiber and drinking enough water.4,9 Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are examples of foods that are high in fiber.10
Many people reach for laxatives as a treatment for constipation, but long-term use of laxatives can cause fecal impaction and more constipation.1 Laxatives are not always the best option for treating constipation because they can lose their effectiveness and cause further abdominal pain and bloating.4
Symptoms of constipation
Adults experiencing constipation can have symptoms such as back pain, loss of appetite, hard stool, hemorrhoids, intestinal obstruction and dysfunction, nausea, and vomiting.2 Many people also feel anxiety as an emotional response to constipation.11
If symptoms of constipation are not treated then it may lead to more pressing disorders and unwanted health conditions that increase the cost of healthcare and reduce the satisfaction and quality of life.2,3
Massage for constipation
Massages encourage blood circulation and reduce inflammation in muscles.2
Constipation can sometimes be treated by abdominal massage. Abdominal massage can reduce discomfort and increase the frequency of bowel movements.1
The process of abdominal massage can be performed by the person themselves making it an inexpensive treatment for constipation.1 The pressure exerted onto the intestine causes the intestine to rid itself of the undigested waste.2
Abdominal massage consists of a process of clockwise gentle kneading, stroking and vibrations to the abdominal area using your hands.5
Studies show that daily abdominal massages for six weeks improved constipation and bowel movements. It can help decrease gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with constipation.2
Abdominal massage for babies
Abdominal massage can also be an effective method to reduce constipation symptoms in babies between the age of 7-12 months.10 Babies start feeling constipation between the ages of 7-12 months old because this is typically when they start eating solid foods.10 Seek medical advice for constipation in babies and children.
Reflexology for constipation
Reflexology is a technique that uses pressure on parts of the feet to boost immunity, improve sleep and stimulate blood flow. Certain pressure points on the feet to stimulate the body to reduce stress, pain, and tension.7
Studies have reported that constipation symptoms can be reduced using the reflexology technique.7 Reflexology showed great improvement in constipated patients in just three days.8
Reflexology and foot massages are known to help pregnant women experiencing constipation and anxiety. Using acupuncture on reflex points in combination with abdominal massages can help relax and increase bowel movements in pregnant women.11
Aromatherapy is an alternative method that uses essential or aromatic oils from flowers, plants, levels and trees. Essential oils have chemicals such as alcohol, ketones, and phenols which are used when massaging the skin; these oils can stimulate enzymes and hormones.9
Aromatherapy massages are thought to help with relaxation and sleep by allowing oxygen and nutrients to enter the cell tissues.9 A study showed participants with constipation receiving aromatherapy massages for 20 minutes a day for five days. 9 The aromatherapy massage improved constipation pain and overall relaxation in the participants.9
Lack of exercise, diet change, stress, surgery and medication can all cause constipation which can be treated with alternative therapies such as abdominal massages, reflexology, perineal massage and aromatherapy massage,3,6 these methods may also help relieve constipation in babies and pregnant women.
If constipation is not treated in time, it can lead to more serious disorders such as fecal impaction, inconsistent bowel movement and abdominal pain and bloating.3
While massages are generally safe for people experiencing constipation, always speak to your doctor before any treatment to make sure that it is safe for you.
1. Sinclair M. The use of abdominal massage to treat chronic constipation. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1360859210001063?casa_token=DDLU-BlZT0QAAAAA%3Auh8uBc6W_qhDXXgzdFzdzbCo5NFxr6XOjjtCM4nHufpTb_czRfriTo5Xq_z-s4wo2JNtKvAijg. Published August 25, 2010. Accessed August 2, 2021.
2. Okuyan CB, Bilgili N. Effect of abdominal massage on constipation and quality of life in older adults: A randomized controlled trial. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0965229919308787?casa_token=Cj1nSggMabsAAAAA%3A3dkY4Z3njKwzLgFbkbgfSBhenjgtMrLs4H2_yXxAh1U041zd19WbH_j_wPd1FavmjCAiXrxJtg. Published October 16, 2019. Accessed August 2, 2021.
3.McClurg D, Hagen S, Dickinson L. Abdominal massage for the treatment of constipation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2011. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd009089
4. Çevik K, Çetinkaya A, Yiğit Gökbel K, Menekşe B, Saza S, Tıkız C. The effect of Abdominal massage on constipation in the Elderly residing in rest homes. Gastroenterology Nursing. 2018;41(5):396-402. doi:10.1097/sga.0000000000000343
5. Turan N, Atabek Aşt T. The effect of Abdominal massage on constipation and quality of life. Gastroenterology Nursing. 2016;39(1):48-59. doi:10.1097/sga.0000000000000202
6. Harrington KL, Haskvitz EM. Managing a patient’s constipation with physical therapy. Physical Therapy. 2006;86(11):1511-1519. doi:10.2522/ptj.20050347
7. Sajadi M, Davodabady F, Ebrahimi-Monfared M. The effect of FOOT Reflexology On fatigue, sleep quality and anxiety in patients with MULTIPLE sclerosis: A randomized controlled trial. Archives of Neuroscience. 2020;7(3). doi:10.5812/ans.102591
8. Seyyedrassoli A, Ghahramanian A, Azizi A, Goljarian S, Gillespie M, Aydinferd S. Comparison of effectiveness of reflexology and abdominal … International Journal of Medical Research & Health Sciences. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Mark-Gillespie/publication/311230827_Comparison_of_Effectiveness_of_Reflexology_and_Abdominal_Massage_on_Constipation_among_Orthopedic_Patients_A_single-blind_Randomized_Controlled_Trial/links/584037fb08ae2d21755f2c0c/Comparison-of-Effectiveness-of-Reflexology-and-Abdominal-Massage-on-Constipation-among-Orthopedic-Patients-A-single-blind-Randomized-Controlled-Trial.pdf. Published 2016. Accessed August 2, 2021.
9. Lai TKT, Cheung MC, Lo CK, et al. Effectiveness of aroma massage on advanced cancer patients with constipation: A pilot study. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 2011;17(1):37-43. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2010.02.004
10. Ardhiyanti Y, Israyati N. The effect of massage therapy in Overcoming constipation in Infants AGED 7-12 MONTHS. Science Midwifery. https://midwifery.iocspublisher.org/index.php/midwifery/article/view/71. Published April 2, 2021. Accessed August 2, 2021.
11. Sehhatti F, Hughes C, Mirghafourvand M, Anjoman Azari Z. The effect of short-term FOOT Reflexology in Improving Constipation symptoms during Pregnancy: A TwoArmed, randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Women’s Health and Reproduction Sciences. 2019;8(3):303-310. doi:10.15296/ijwhr.2020.49
Image by Alicia Harper from Pixabay