Medically reviewed by Robert Burakoff, MD
If you are constipated, it means you are having three of fewer bowel movements a week. Constipation usually has other symptoms, like dry or hard stools, stomachache, cramps, nausea, and bloating. While a variety of dietary, over-the-counter, and prescription treatments are typically recommended for constipation, research shows different types of massage may also be an effective method for getting you to make a bowel movement.
Types of Massages for Constipation
While massage isn’t considered a standard treatment for constipation, some guidelines do recommend it as an additional therapy. Abdominal massage is the massage type in particular that treatment guidelines single out as being effective for helping to treat constipation. But there are a couple other massage techniques that might help, as well.
Massaging your abdomen might help relieve your constipation. It's believed to do so for two reasons. One, the massage promotes contractions that help move stool through the digestive tract. Two, the massage speeds up how quickly your stool travels through your colon.
An abdominal massage can also help alleviate some of the pain and discomfort you may have from being constipated.
While considered effective, know that you might not see the effects until a few weeks after you start the massaging. That's why the massage is better for people with chronic constipation rather than one-off episodes.
The therapy is best when received once or twice a day for 10-20 minutes. The massage should be done with gentle but firm pressure.
Speak with a healthcare provider about the steps you should follow when massaging your abdomen. They will likely recommend you lie down and bend your knees. Some experts may recommend doing the massage in a circular motion, others with strokes. But generally, the massage with follow the "U" shape of your colon—from the right hipbone, up to the to right ribcage, across to the left ribcage, and down to your left hip bone—and then a massage near the belly button.
Abdominal massage is not only effective, but also safe. People who massage their abdomen also tend to use fewer medications for their constipation. Massaging your abdomen is also an affordable treatment option—free unless you opt for an automatic abdominal massage device.
Such a device also makes it so that you don't have to manually massage yourself, which some people might find difficult due to mobility issues or time-consuming.
It's also possible to have healthcare provider do the massage for you, but since you'll need to do the massage every day for it to be effective, that could get costly and inconvenient.
A colon massage is a specific type of abdominal massage. It targets the colon alone.
One 2020 study found that daily colon massage helped older adults with chronic constipation over the course of a month. Study participants reported an increase in bowel movements and less use of laxatives.
The study had participants use a massage device. The device—called an intermittent colonic exo-peristalsis device—is put on the abdomen for 20 minutes at a time. The device puts rhythmic, wave-like pressure on the abdomen along the colon's path. In doing this, the device mimics the natural contractions a colon would make to move stool through your system.
A foot massage may be an option for constipation relief. Specifically, it's a foot massage part of reflexology that can help.
Reflexology is a complementary therapy that involves applying pressure to different points on the feet or hands. These points are believed to be connected to other parts of the body. For instance, it's thought that points on the feet are connected to your intestines—not physically, but through energy. Massaging these points can help aid constipation.
Recent research has shown reflexology on the feet can specifically help older adults with constipation. Study participants who received a 30-minute reflexology foot massage three times a week for a month had improved bowel movements and less constipation. The massage was performed after breakfast to help encourage natural digestive system movement.
The points on the feet that are supposedly connected to the colon are different between your right and left foot. On your right foot, the place to massage would be an upside-down "L" shape. You can move your hands from the inside to the outside of your arch and then down until right before your heel begins.
On your left foot, the parts of your feet that are connected to the colon form a "C" shape, starting from the middle of your arch. The portion you should massage then goes up, down, and in before swooping back up.
Massage for constipation generally does not come with risks. That said, it's probably still a good idea to talk through this potential remedy with a healthcare provider before trying to self-treat constipation.
This is especially true if you are pregnant. While massage therapy can be a safe relaxation technique for pregnant people with some setup modifications, experts advise that massage should not take place on the abdomen, as it could cause risk to the pregnancy.
In addition, because constipation can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying health issue, you should consult with a healthcare provider before using massage for constipation to see not only if the massage would be effective for your type of constipation, but also whether you need different treatment for a specific condition.
Other Ways To Relieve Constipation
There are a variety of at-home methods for relieving constipation that experts recommend.
Lifestyle tweaks are usually a good place to start. By switching up your diet and exercise regime, you can help make bowel movements easier to pass. This involves staying hydrated and getting enough fiber through your diet every day. You'll also want to ensure you're getting some type of regular physical activity to help keep things moving.
Another at-home method is bowel training, which is training the body to have a healthy bowel movement at the same time each day. Experts suggest blocking out a certain chunk of the day—perhaps within the hour after eating breakfast—that you can use as time to go to the bathroom when you feel the urge.
Recently, experts have recommended magnesium oxide (a magnesium supplement) and senna (a derivative of the herb Senna alexandrina) as effective, natural treatment options for chronic constipation. They both work by softening the stool and encouraging bowel contractions, which helps move stool along the digestive tract.
Over-the-counter laxatives may also be useful for a short period of time. There are several different types, including stool softeners, stimulants, lubricants, osmotic agents, and fiber supplements. A healthcare provider can discuss which option would be the best for you to try.
It's also a good idea to see if any medications you're currently taking cause constipation or make constipation worse. Some of the common medications that can cause or worsen constipation include antacids, diuretics, opioids, and certain depression medications. A healthcare provider may consider making a change to your medication or dosage based on how severe your constipation is. You should always check in with them rather than stopping or changing any medications on your own.
If at-home remedies or lifestyle changes don't seem to be working, a healthcare provider may suggest taking prescription medications to help regulate bowel movements and reduce pain or other symptoms.
They may also recommend biofeedback therapy, a type of therapy that can help train the muscles in your body to better control bowel movements.
And possibly as a last resort, they may say surgery is required to treat any potential intestinal blockages or, in severe cases, remove the colon if it's not functioning properly.
When To See a Healthcare Provider
Occasional constipation is common. It's estimated that around 16% of U.S. adults experience constipation symptoms.
But if your constipation symptoms are frequent or aren't going away with at-home remedies or if you have a family member who's had colorectal cancer, it's a good idea to see a healthcare provider as soon as possible.
In addition, constipation might be an emergency and require urgent medical care if you notice:
Bleeding or blood in your stool
Severe or constant stomach pain
Unintentional weight loss
An inability to pass gas
A Quick Review
Massage might be able to help treat constipation. Some research has shown that daily at-home massage of the abdomen—specifically the area of the colon—may be helpful in stimulating regular bowel movements. In fact, some treatment guidelines even include abdominal massage as an effective alternative treatment approach for constipation. Some research has shown that massaging certain points of your feet can help ease constipation as well. If you need constipation relief, talk with a healthcare provider about whether massage might be right for you and, if so, which method would be best.
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