It is possible to perform massage for constipation relief at home without equipment. It involves gentle pressure on the muscles and organs involved in passing waste.
While there is no conclusive proof that massage for constipation works, some evidence suggests they may provide relief.
Massages are not generally dangerous, could provide relief and improve well-being, regardless of whether they help with constipation, so it may be worth trying.
This article explores which massage techniques may relieve constipation and how to perform them.
Constipation occurs when a person has trouble passing bowel movements. Symptoms can vary between people, but a common definition is having:
- fewer than 3 bowel movements in a week
- hard or lumpy stools
- pain when passing a bowel movement
- feeling that not all stools have passed
Abdominal massages could help with easing constipation. Small studies support the use of massage therapy to help with this condition. Below are various types of massage and their effects on constipation relief.
There is some evidence that abdominal massages may help relieve constipation symptoms.
In an older review, researchers found that studies showed generally favorable results when performing abdominal massages for constipation.
However, the authors mention the research had methodological flaws, including which massages participants used, the massage recipients, and the trial sizes.
Though most studies are small, the evidence is generally positive.
How to perform abdominal massage
To perform an abdominal massage, a person should:
- Lie on their back with the knees bent and feet planted on the floor.
- Start the massage on the right side near the pelvic bone and apply pressure in a circular motion, working the hands up to the rib cage.
- Move the hands to the left side, continue working them down to the hip bone, and then come back up towards the belly button.
- Repeat as needed.
Though people may draw parallels to colon massage and abdominal massage, the key difference appears to be the amount of applied pressure.
Practitioners claim colon massage is a deep abdominal technique to stimulate the organs into releasing gas and pressure.
It is unclear if researchers used deep abdominal massages or abdominal massages in their studies.
It is also uncertain if scientists have specifically looked at a colon massage or the difference between applying deep pressure and regular massage.
How to perform colon massage
A colon massage is similar to an abdominal massage. To perform the technique, a person should:
- Lie on their back with the knees bent and feet on the floor
- Use the knuckles or fingertips to apply pressure on the left side, moving from the rib cage down to the pelvic bone.
- Then, start on the right side and work the fingertips to the left under the rib cage and then move the hands down to the pelvic bone.
- Finally, on the right side of the stomach, massage up from the belly button to the rib cage, then left to the other side, and finally down again to the pelvic bone.
- Repeat these steps 10–15 times.
Massaging other areas of the body may also help with constipation. The following are some of these techniques, along with any supporting evidence.
Though research studies are limited, the Institute for Integrative Healthcare suggest that the interconnected nature of the back and colon muscles means that back massages may help with constipation.
No studies currently exist that specifically examine this effect, but back massages are unlikely to cause harm and could help with relaxation.
In a 2003 study on reflexology, researchers found that children who received a foot massage saw improvements in their constipation.
Similar to other research, this study was small, with only 50 participants, meaning the results may not be the same for all age groups or types of people.
In a more recent study, researchers examined 60 older adults to study the effects of reflexology on constipation. Similar to the study on children, the scientists found positive results using this technique.
How to perform a foot massage
To perform reflexology, a person should:
- Sit in a comfortable position with one foot crossed over the opposite knee so that they can easily touch the bottom of their foot.
- Starting at the middle of the heel, massage with the thumb and work towards the outer edge.
- Following the edge of the foot, continue applying pressure, moving the thumb towards the middle of the foot.
- Switch feet and work from the center of the foot on the inside to the outer edge.
- Move the thumb towards the heel and finish by massaging the inside of the middle of the foot.
A perineal massage uses a pressure point between the vagina or scrotum and anus to help relieve constipation.
According to a 2014 study of 100 adults, a self-administered perineal massage helped participants with passing stools and improving their quality of life.
To perform a perineal massage, a person should:
- use the first two fingers to apply pressure between the anus and the scrotum or vagina
- apply pressure towards the anus
- hold the pressure, release, and repeat several times
There are several methods to ease constipation alongside or instead of massage therapy. These remedies include:
- staying hydrated
- exercising more
- keeping a regular schedule of passing a movement
- eating more fiber
- trying osmotic laxatives that pull water into the intestine
A person may not need to see their doctor if constipation resolves within a few weeks of trying methods such as home remedies or dietary changes.
People should speak with a doctor if symptoms affect their daily lives or if they have concerns about their condition.
Constipation is a common issue that often resolves with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications.
Massage techniques may help alleviate constipation, but they may not work for everyone.
If symptoms do not disappear, a person should talk with their doctor about further treatment options.
Massage therapy may work with helping a person with constipation find relief.
However, the evidence for this is limited. They mostly involve small studies that may not reflect how effective the therapy is for larger populations.
People interested in massage therapy for constipation can perform these techniques with minimal risk. However, they should speak with a doctor to explore the best methods in avoiding persistent constipation or complications.