Massage therapy is generally regarded as being beneficial for the reduction of stress or pain. One of its lesser known uses is for the improvement of digestive health. This can be especially useful for those suffering from certain digestive disorders including irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and chronic constipation.
There are two routes in which massage therapy can aid in digestive health: stress reduction and manual manipulation using abdominal massage.
Stress can be an aggravating factor for many conditions of poor digestive health. When our bodies are in a state of constant stress our brain allocates resources to specific areas for survival. Digestion is not one of these processes. Proper digestion happens when we are in a state of rest.
Massage therapy aids in relaxation by affecting the central nervous system and this state of rest can be achieved. By increasing relaxation people suffering from these disorders may experience a lessening of painful symptoms.
Specific massage therapy techniques can be used on the abdomen to manually manipulate the large intestine. By following the clockwise direction of the colon, massage can help the movement of masses through this area. These techniques can also help stimulate the spontaneous movement of the digestive tract. This gentle form of massage may help reduce symptoms such as cramping, bloating, gas, and constipation.
Abdominal massage should not be used during flare-ups of specific conditions such as IBS, Chron's, or ulcerative colitis as it could aggravate the symptoms. During periods of remission abdominal massage can be very beneficial for these patients.
Additionally, hydrotherapy in the form of hot or cold compresses can be used to reach a desired effect. A cold abdominal wash using cool towels can benefit patients with constipation, while a warm compress will have the opposite effect.
If you aren't able to see a massage therapist or wish to extend the benefits of a treatment there are a few things you can do at home.
Click here for a short video tutorial for self abdominal massage.
Using hot or cold hydrotherapy is also easy to do at home. As well as increasing overall general relaxation by using yoga, mediation or deep breathing techniques.
If you feel that abdominal massage could be beneficial you are encouraged to ask your massage therapist about it. Even if you have no preexisting digestive issues, abdominal massage can still be beneficial, many patients find it very relaxing and enjoyable. It can always be incorporated into a longer treatment.
By Diana Bellissimo, Registered Massage Therapist