Stomach massage can be a home remedy for constipation relief. It involves applying gentle pressure, stroking, kneading, and other techniques on the muscles.

Constipation affects around 16 out of 100 adults in the United States. While there is no conclusive proof that massage works for constipation, some evidence suggests it may provide relief.

Massage is not generally dangerous and could provide relief and improve well-being, regardless of whether it helps with constipation, so it may be worth trying.

This article explores which massage techniques may relieve constipation and how to perform them.

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Abdominal massage may 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.

Some research suggests that abdominal massage may help relieve constipation symptoms. Though most studies on the topic are small, the evidence is generally positive.

According to a 2020 study involving 37 participants, a device that simulates manual massage of the abdomen is effective in treating slow-transit constipation. This happens when the colon is not moving waste through the large intestine quickly enough.

Another 2020 study compared court-type Thai traditional massage with Senokot, a laxative product. In this form of Thai massage, the practitioner uses only the fingers, thumbs, and palms. The study split 40 participants with constipation into two groups, to receive either regular Thai massage or laxatives. Both the Thai massage and laxative groups experienced constipation relief, an increase in bowel movements, and complete emptying of bowels. Researchers suggested massage was a more effective method of relieving constipation, as it resulted in more solid, regular stools than the laxative.

According to a 2015 study involving 29 people with constipation, abdominal massage effectively increases bowel movements. According to the study, a particular massage technique called tensegrity massage may be more effective for relieving constipation than classical abdominal massage.

A 2018 study looked at the effects of abdominal massage on 191 people with multiple sclerosis who experienced constipation and fecal incontinence. The study found that abdominal massage led to slight improvements in bowel movement frequency and emptying of bowels. Participants also reported feeling better.

How to perform abdominal massage

People can try the following abdominal massage to help relieve constipation, as outlined in a 2011 Nursing Times review and reproduced by the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. The four types of movement are stroking, effleurage, kneading, and vibration. These strokes encourage the movement of stool through the colon and into the rectum.

The person should lie down with a pillow under the knees. Apply massage oil over the abdomen and follow these steps:

  1. Stroke: Using a flat hand, stroke a straight line from the base of the abdomen (between the hips) up to the rib cage. Repeat 10 times.
  2. Stroke: Place both hands at the small of the back, one on each side. Smooth the hands over both hips and down toward the pelvis and groin — where the thigh bone meets the pelvis. Repeat 10 times.
  3. Effleurage: Make a fist with the right hand and place it over the right groin. Slide the fist up the abdomen toward the right rib cage, across to the left rib cage, and down the left side of the abdomen. The motion is an upside-down “U.” Perform it slowly, about 10 times or for 2 minutes. A person can place the left hand on top of the fist for additional pressure.
  4. Kneading: Make a fist and place it on the upper left abdomen just below the rib cage. This is a slow movement: Rotate the wrist about 10 times while moving down the left wall of the abdomen. Repeat 10 times. Perform the same kneading massage on the right side, but work from the bottom (right lower groin) to the top.
  5. Effleurage: Repeat step 3 for about 2 minutes.
  6. Vibrations: Place both palms, one hand over the other, over the center of the abdomen. Make a shaking movement with your hands while pushing down on the abdomen. Vibrations can help relieve gas.

Ideally, people can aim to do the massage around the time they might usually have a bowel movement, in the morning, or when they are able to sit or lie down. This may help reeducate the body to move stools naturally. People may notice an improvement within 4 weeks of using this abdominal massage, based on a summary of the technique in the Nursing Times article.

According to anecdotal sources, massage practitioners claim colon massage is a deep abdominal technique to stimulate the organs into releasing gas and pressure.

A 2020 study reports daily massage that targets the colon can help treat chronic constipation. The study looked at the effects of a massage device that worked in a similar way to a manual colon massage.

The study followed 92 participants with chronic constipation over the course of 9 weeks. Each participant used the colon massage device for 20 minutes per day for 4 weeks.

During the treatment period, there was a significant increase in bowel movements, improved stool consistency, and reduced use of laxatives and suppositories.

Following treatment, there was an improvement in symptoms of constipation, including bloating, abdominal pain, and incomplete bowel movements. Participants also reported a significant improvement in quality of life and overall satisfaction.

How to perform colon massage

People can carry out the following massage 20 minutes before they are likely to have a bowel movement. Use a flat hand to make a sweeping stroke, applying moderate pressure. The massage follows the path of the colon and will take around 5–7 minutes to complete:

  • Lie down flat on the floor.
  • Start at the lower right-hand side of the abdomen, at the front of the right hip bone, and stroke upward to underneath the right side of the rib cage.
  • Stroke across from right to left, underneath the rib cage, then down to the lower left side of the abdomen, and finish with an inward stroke toward the middle of the lower abdomen.
  • Repeat this square-like motion five to seven times.
  • Next, place the hand on the lower right-hand side of the abdomen, press down with moderate pressure, and scoop the hand in an upward C-shaped stroke three to five times.
  • Repeat the same stroke below the right-hand rib cage, the left-hand rib cage, the lower left side of the abdomen, and the lower middle abdomen, three to five times in each position.

Constipation occurs when a person has trouble passing stools. Symptoms can vary between people but may include:

  • fewer than three bowel movements in 1 week
  • hard or lumpy stools
  • pain when passing a stool
  • feeling that not all stools have passed

Massaging other areas of the body may also help with constipation. The following are some of these techniques, along with any supporting evidence.

Foot massage

In a 2020 study, researchers looked at the effects of foot reflexology massage on constipation in 60 older adults.

Reflexology is a massage technique that targets reflex points in the body to stimulate the nervous system, sending messages to glands and organs in other parts of the body. Reflexology can help stimulate or calm certain areas of the body, helping to bring systems into balance.

The researchers divided participants into a reflexology massage group and a control group who received foot massage without pressure. Participants received a 30-minute massage three times a week for 1 month. Researchers found that reflexology increased the emptying of bowels and reduced constipation severity.

How to perform a foot massage

People may want to contact a reflexologist for a foot massage to relieve constipation. If a person wants to try foot reflexology at home, anecdotal sources suggest the following method:

  • Sit in a comfortable position to reach the feet easily.
  • Using an absorbent body lotion or oil, massage the feet with the hands using squeezing, kneading, or stroking motions.
  • Cross one foot over the opposite knee and hold onto the ankle.
  • Place the thumb of one hand onto the sole.
  • Start at the heel and move toward each toe, using a forward, caterpillar-like motion to apply even pressure.
  • People may also want to use a reflexology chart to find out which pressure points relate to specific areas of the body and use the thumb to press on each point. For example, points on the sole of each foot correspond to different parts of the colon.
  • Finish by very lightly running the fingertips over and across the whole of the foot several times.
  • Repeat the entire process for the other foot.

Learn more about foot massage techniques and benefits.

There are several other home remedies to ease constipation alongside or instead of massage therapy, such as:

  • staying well hydrated
  • exercising more frequently
  • keeping a regular schedule of passing a stool
  • eating more fiber or taking a fiber supplement
  • trying osmotic laxatives that help soften stools

A person may not need medical attention if constipation resolves within a few weeks of trying home remedies, massage, or dietary changes.

Find more home remedies for constipation here.

A person may need to contact a healthcare professional if constipation and its symptoms affect their daily life or if they have concerns about the condition.

People will need to contact a doctor straight away for constipation alongside any of the following:

Constipation is a common issue that often resolves with self-care, diet modifications, and over-the-counter osmotic laxatives.

Massage techniques may help alleviate constipation, but they may not work for everyone. If symptoms do not subside, a person can talk with their doctor about treatment options.

Massage therapy may work to help a person with constipation find relief. Research so far involves small studies that may not reflect how effective the therapy is in a larger population.

People interested in massage therapy for constipation can perform these techniques with minimal risk or consult a massage therapist. People can talk with a doctor to explore the best methods in avoiding persistent constipation or its complications.