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Korin Miller

Published: 10/19/2022

Plus, how to DIY an abdominal massage for constipation and better digestion.

Being constipated is a sure-fire way to develop a sudden obsession with your bowel movements. And, with that, it’s only natural to want to find ways to seek relief as soon as possible.

Head on over to TikTok, and you’ll see plenty of people poking and prodding their abdomens to try to ease their digestive woes and get things moving. With the hashtag #abdominalmassage racking up over 15.3 million views (and counting) on the platform, users seem to be quite eager to give this hands-on, noninvasive technique a go.

But does an abdominal massage actually deliver relief from constipation and other tummy troubles? And if so, how do you give one to yourself? Those answers and more, ahead.

What Is an Abdominal Massage and How Does It Work?

An abdominal massage often — and in the case of the clips circulating on the ‘Tok — refers to hands-on manipulation of “the abdominal muscles and the large intestine portion of the digestive tract in an effort to help alleviate symptoms associated with constipation, such as infrequent bowel movements, bloating and abdominal discomfort,” says Ashley Rawlins, DPT, pelvic floor physical therapist at Origin.

The treatment is done “to assist with colonic transit” and “in theory, [is] stimulating your stretch receptors in the walls of the colon…to help move stool through the colon,” says Jennifer Shifferd, MSPT, CLT, physical therapist clinical specialist at Michigan Medicine Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Meaning, it can both manually move bowel movements along and encourage neural communication to do the same.

Here's how: The massage mimics peristalsis, which refers to the wave-like contractions in the smooth muscles in your intestines that move food and waste through your gut, Rawlins explains.

“When intestinal motility is improved, things get moving toward the exit, so you may also find relief in bloating,” she says. “As a bonus, since your large intestines lie underneath your abdominal muscles, when performing the abdominal massage, you are also getting a nice abdominal muscle massage, which can help ease any tension you may have [in the area].”

“When intestinal motility is improved, things get moving toward the exit, so you may also find relief in bloating.”

The technique might also aid in gut troubles that are not necessarily caused by constipation (although commonly are), such as bloating specifically due to gas. After all, applying pressure to your intestines in a clockwise manner can also help push out any trapped air, explains Krystel Laudante, lead massage therapist at THE WELL New York.

“One can [also] expect benefits such as higher quality sleep and clearer complexion,” says Laudante. “When food is digested properly, our body can better flush itself of the toxins within fecal matter that [can] impact the quality of our sleep and our skin’s appearance."

On top of alln that, abdominal massage can “be a relaxing way of helping to alleviate abdominal symptoms while spending time on self-care simultaneously,” says integrative gastroenterologist Marvin Singh, M.D.

RELATED: The Best Yoga Poses to Relieve Gas and Bloating

How to Do an Abdominal Massage

The massage is done in a clockwise manner along the path of the ascending, transverse and descending portions of the large intestine, Rawlins explains. That’s because this is the direction poop takes when it moves through your gut.

In general, you’ll want to follow these steps to do an abdominal massage, according to Rawlins and Laudente:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground or stand upright. ("Inside the shower is a perfect place," says Laudente.)
  • Place your pointer, middle and index fingers flat against the lower right side of your abdomen near the bone of your pelvis.
  • Apply gentle pressure or, as recommended by the University of Michigan School of Medicine, lightly rub in a circular motion. Repeat for 1-2 minutes, gradually moving your fingers up the right side of your core until you reach your ribs.
  • Move your fingers from right to left across the top of your abdomen, just below your rib cage, for 1-2 minutes.
  • Once at the upper left portion of your abdomen, work your fingers down to the left hip bone for 1-2 minutes.
  • Repeat in a clockwise manner for 10 minutes, according to the University of Michigan School of Medicine.

As for how often to do an abdominal massage, Dr. Singh says it really depends on your goals and “the situation.” If you just want to try to stimulate your gut to boost digestion or you just like the feeling of the practice, you can DIY less often. But if you’re backed up and nothing seems to be helping, giving yourself an abdominal massage once a day may get things moving.

RELATED: Decoding Your Digestion

Whether you’re a daily or weekly massager, timing of your treatment can be key, says Rawlins, who finds incorporating an abdominal massage as part of her morning bowel routine to be most effective. In fact, according to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, you should try to do it in the am so “the massage can then combine with the natural movements of your body to help move the stool.”

Just keep in mind Dr. Singh’s caution: If you develop any pain or soreness, you should stop.

It’s important to note that while an abdominal massage can be an effective way of easing constipation and related symptoms, it’s not the be-all, end-all solution. Rather, it's just one of several potentially helpful tools for addressing digestive distress, Rawlins says. And "it can be used along with many others: diet and hydration changes, supplements or medications, lifestyle strategies or pelvic physical therapy to help get things moving, increase how often you are able to have a bowel movement" and more.

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