Abdominal massage may have several beneficial effects on people suffering from constipation, according to recent research.

The study, “Using massage to ease constipation,” involved 60 people who had been experiencing two or more specific symptoms of constipation for at least 12 weeks in the last 12 months.

Subjects ranged in age from 36 to 85, with an average age of 63 years, and 51 of them were women. Participants were randomly divided between the intervention group and the control group.

In the control group, subjects were instructed to continue with the usual use of their prescribed laxatives. In the intervention group, subjects received 15 minutes of abdominal and hand massage a day, five days a week, for eight weeks.

The intervention group also was instructed to continue with the normal use of any prescribed laxatives, but to reduce the use of these laxatives according to any improvements in bowel function.

The hand-and-abdominal massage took place in a private room with soft lighting and relaxing music. Subjects had the option of receiving the massage at home, at the clinic or at work. A nurse educated in massage therapy provided these sessions, and massage oil was used to reduce friction.

Each session began with a hand massage, focusing for about eight minutes on the back of the hands, fingers and palms, with circular movements and longitudinal strokes. Following the hand massage, the abdominal massage took place for about seven minutes, with lateral and downward strokes, as well as circular movements in the direction of the large intestine.

“A systematic massage pattern enables the recipient to recognize the strokes, promoting a feeling of security and making it easier to relax in future sessions,” states the study’s author.

Results of the research showed that abdominal massage significantly reduced symptoms of constipation and abdominal pain. Subjects in the massage group also had a higher number of bowel movements compared to those in the control group. In addition, participants in the massage group showed significant increases in health-related quality of life.

“However, abdominal massage did not have an immediate effect, and it took up to two weeks for participants to experience any increase in bowel function,” states the study’s author. “The bowel function then increased gradually during the eight-week study period.”

The research showed no significant differences in the use of laxatives between the intervention group and the control group, despite the benefits of abdominal massage.

“It is uncertain if abdominal massage can replace laxatives, but it can be used as a complementary therapy or as a first-line treatment,” states the study’s author. “One criterion for giving massage is that both the massage therapist and the recipient feel comfortable with the situation.”

Author: Kristina Lämås.

Source: Department of Nursing, Umeå University, Sweden. Originally published in Nursing Times 107: 4.