Constipation is a pain, literally and figuratively. Over-the-counter laxatives are often pushed as the quick fix, but they’re not without their problems. Even some so-called natural laxatives can cause pain and side effects. Herbal laxatives can produce unpleasant cramping. Stimulant laxatives are just harsh and require that you set aside your entire day in order to manage the violent effects they produce. What if there was a way to relieve constipation and it was inexpensive, non-invasive, free of nasty side effects, and you could perform it yourself? There is, allow me to introduce you to abdominal massage.
What is Abdominal Massage?
Abdominal massage is fairly self explanatory: the abdomen and intestinal areas are massaged with different motions and pressure (always comfortable, never painful). The massage action naturally helps to stimulate peristalsis, decrease colonic transit time and increase the frequency of bowel movements. It also reduces the discomfort typically associated with constipation. Abdominal massage has no adverse side effects and you can easily do it yourself. 
How Effective is Abdominal Massage as a Natural Laxative?
Abdominal massage has been used to relieve symptoms of constipation since the 19th century and its popularity has varied over the years. It is what it is and not subject to much “scientific breakthrough” or the hype that comes along with it. That’s unfortunate, because research all over the world has echoed with resounding agreement that abdominal massage can offer relief to persons suffering from constipation. A study in Korea found that abdominal massage was effective for constipation management.  In Brazil, researchers discovered that combining isometric training of the abdominal muscles, breathing exercises, and abdominal massage can help increase defecation frequency.  It’s also been found that performing the massage with essential oils of rosemary, lemon, or peppermint offers an additional aromatherapeutic benefit and helps to improve constipation symptoms even more than massage alone. 
Even the elderly, who often suffer from chronic, debilitating constipation, may find relief with this gentle, natural method. The Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC reported a case of a constipated 85-year-old woman who had unsuccessfully turned to stool softeners for relief. Doctors instructed her to perform a daily, 10-minute abdominal massage at home. When she was reexamined, she reported that her bowel frequency and function had returned to normal and she no longer had to strain or use unpleasant digital evacuation methods. In her case, abdominal massage worked very well. 
Abdominal Massage: Try It!
There really is very little question about it, abdominal massage helps to decrease the severity of constipation and helps to increase bowel movements. But, unlike laxatives, produces no negative side effects. In fact, it can be downright pleasant. Sweden’s Umeå University asked nine adults who were receiving abdominal massage for constipation to weigh in on the experience. Although the subjects reported some initial comfort adjustments (mainly with having someone else massage their abdomen), they described the experience as not only effective in helping to relieve constipation, but also as pleasant and a well-being booster. 
Has abdominal massage helped to relieve your symptoms of constipation? Please leave a comment and share your experience!
- Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
- McClurg D, Lowe-Strong A. Does abdominal massage relieve constipation? Nurs Times. 2011 Mar 29-Apr 4;107(12):20-2. Review.
- Jeon SY, Jung HM. The effects of abdominal meridian massage on constipation among CVA patients. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2005 Feb;35(1):135-42. Korean.
- Gomes Silva CA, Almeida Motta ME. The use of abdominal muscle training, breathing exercises and abdominal massage to treat pediatric chronic functional constipation. Colorectal Dis. 2013 Feb 1. doi: 10.1111/codi.12160.
- Kim MA, Sakong JK, Kim EJ, Kim EH, Kim EH. Effect of aromatherapy massage for the relief of constipation in the elderly. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2005 Feb;35(1):56-64. Korean.
- Harrington KL, Haskvitz EM. Managing a patient’s constipation with physical therapy. Phys Ther. 2006 Nov;86(11):1511-9.
- Lämås K, Graneheim UH, Jacobsson C. Experiences of abdominal massage for constipation. J Clin Nurs. 2012 Mar;21(5-6):757-65. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2011.03946.x. Epub 2011 Nov 21.