Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Massage : The Rubdown

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Massage

by Ashley Reynolds on 01/12/11

Definition 

Periodic abdominal cramps and irregular bowel movement (constipation and/or diarrhea) occurring in the absence of disease.  This abnormality is a chronic disturbance of involuntary muscle movement in the large intestine.  Anxiety and chronic stress are believed to be main causative factors.  It is experienced more frequently in females.  Other medical terms used for this condition are “spastic colon,”  “irritable colon,” and “functional bowel syndrome.”

 Demographics

Although the statistics on IBS may vary, most agree that it is a relatively common condition.  20-30% of the U.S. population may have IBS symptoms at some point in their lives.  Women are affected approximately 3 times more often than men.  IBS accounts for some 5 million doctor visits each year.

 Symptoms

Symptoms include:  Intermittent abdominal pain, distention (swelling) often on the left side, temporary relief of pain by bowel movement or expelling gas, fecal mucus, sense of incomplete bowel movement, passing excessive gas and aggravation of symptoms by eating certain foods.  Other symptoms that may occur are heartburn, back pain, weakness, agitation, fatigue, reduced appetite and palpitations.

 Commonly Prescribed Treatment

Although there is no cure for irritable bowel syndrome, there are things people can do to alleviate the symptoms.  The most commonly prescribed treatment is eating a high fiber diet and taking bulk forming agents.  Antispasmodic drugs to relieve muscle spasms and anti-diarrheal drugs to relieve prolonged diarrhea may also be prescribed.  Additionally, careful selection of foods is recommended.  If a food repeatedly causes symptoms, it’s advisable to eliminate it from the diet.

 Recommendation for Massage

Massage is useful for many IBS patients, provided the individual welcomes this kind of stimulus.  Massaging the affected area can help stimulate the spontaneous movement of the digestive tract (a process called peristalsis) and reduce symptoms such as cramping, bloating, gas, and constipation. Abdominal massage may help remove masses that have become trapped within diverticula, or outpouchings of the intestinal wall. The application of heat or ice can be used along with gentle massage to stimulate the bowel or to reduce swelling.  It can be used to relieve a lot of the anxiety and tension that worsen IBS.  Massage is not contraindicated for people with irritable bowel syndrome as none of the contraindications for massage are present (i.e., cannot be spread to other parts of the body, doesn’t cause acute bleeding or inflammation, is not a disorder of the circulatory system, does not cause abnormal sensation or loss of integrity in an area and does not compromise the immune system.)   Massage can be used during periods of remission for patients with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease to manage chronic pain.  However, if a client is experiencing an acute episode involving muscle spasms and/or diarrhea, it’s probably advisable to postpone the massage until symptoms subside or disappear.

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