If you have or live with someone who has irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you already know that chronic abdominal pain, frequent constipation or diarrhea, fatigue, and bloating diminish your quality of life. You may be absent from school or work often and also might avoid social events because of pain and embarrassment.
No one knows what causes IBS. There is no identifiable underlying infection or pathology associated with IBS. Sometimes it develops after an acute intestinal infection, but not always. Most IBS patients are female. Some people with the condition have food intolerances. Stress and depression seem to be connected to IBS, perhaps because of a combination of a predisposition to the condition and the stress-coping mechanism of these patients.
The physician treating IBS may prescribe medications – laxatives, stool softeners and anti-diarrheals – that have unwanted side effects. Treatment recommendations include increasing fiber in the diet and trying to determine if specific foods exacerbate the condition.
Patients also are encouraged to learn new ways to reduce stress and fight depression. The Mayo Clinic web site recommends several methods for encouraging patients to relax, including massage. A primary benefit of massage for anyone, with or without IBS, is that it decreases the level of tension, anxiety and stress. Managing stress is part of managing IBS.
During massage, an endorphin called serotonin, a natural anti-stress weapon, is released into the body, producing both physical and emotional relaxation. In addition to producing a general feeling of well-being, seratonin increases gut motility, a technical term for waste moving forward through the intestine. Abdominal massage, using light pressure strokes in a clockwise direction, also encourages motility. Increased gut motility means less constipation, less bloating and less abdominal pain.
In a study in Sweden a couple of years ago, a group of patients with severe constipation was treated for eight weeks with laxatives only, and another group was treated with laxatives and abdominal massage. The group that received massage had significantly less severe gastrointestinal symptoms, constipation and abdominal pain throughout the study and at the conclusion. One favorable study isn’t scientific proof, but it certainly suggests that massage is beneficial in treating this set of symptoms.
To summarize, regular massage makes the person with IBS more comfortable and improves bowel function without the potential side effects of strong medications.
Yoga, hypnosis, relaxation therapy and even acupuncture also can provide benefits to IBS patients. So can such herbal remedies as peppermint and turmeric. Enteric coated peppermint oil capsules are helpful especially in mild cases of IBS, although the safety for use during pregnancy has not been established. Probiotics, often found in yogurt, can help ease IBS symptoms.
Massage and all the methods mentioned here are helpful in managing the symptoms of IBS, but don’t replace medication or a physician’s care. They are only part of a treatment plan.