Written By: Laura Ford

You’ve been spending a lot of time at the office behind your desk.  Meals and snacks consist of junk food from closest carryout or something out of the vending machine.  Water?  What’s that?  You can’t even think about exercising until after this project is completed.  Your stomach is in knots and incredibly uncomfortable.  And then you realize it’s happened again.  You’re constipated.

Stress can be detrimental to your digestive system if you are not careful.  The body’s initial response to acute stress is to dramatically slow down the digestive system because while the body is in the fight or flight response, digestion is deemed non-essential for survival.  Normally, after a short period of time, the stressor disappears and all physiological processes return to normal function.  However, chronic stress leads to a long-term activation of the fight or flight response and the body is not given the opportunity to return to normal function.  As a result, movement in the colon can come to an uncomfortable halt.

Massage is known for its relaxation benefits and muscle pain relief, but most people are unaware of how it can impact the digestive system.  Abdominal massage can be performed using firm but gentle pressure to reduce muscle and fascial congestion in the abdomen and stimulate movement in the large intestine.  During the abdominal massage, your therapist will first address specific muscles in the abdomen and their attachments along the ribcage and pelvis.  This helps to relax the muscles surrounding the colon.  Then, clockwise circular movements are used to stimulate movement of the large intestine in the proper direction for elimination.  Abdominal massage can be added to your normal massage treatment and in most cases only requires about 5-7 minutes of your session.  If you suffer from constipation, ask your massage therapist to include abdominal massage in your next treatment.  After your session, have your therapist show you some self-massage techniques you can use at home to aid in healthy digestive function.

In conjunction with abdominal massage, other lifestyle choices will help keep your digestive system working properly.  First, make sure you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day.  Staying hydrated will help the contents of your colon travel more comfortably.  Fruits and vegetables are important in maintaining proper colon function so consider trading in your Honey Bun for an apple or some carrot sticks.  Exercise stimulates circulation throughout the body and encourages movement through the digestive tract.  If your work schedule prevents you from exercising, remember to get up and walk around periodically to get your circulation going.  To reduce the flight or fight reaction, relaxation techniques such as meditation or breathing exercises will help minimize the stress response in the body.  These things may seem impossible to include when life gets hectic and busy, but they are important in maintaining a healthy digestive tract.  A little effort and some changes to how we respond to stress will help make the stress we experience easier to digest.


Did You Know?

Hands On Health’s Bodywork Therapy Seminars program teaches a two day class on the Abdomen, Torso, and Breath all for the purposes of stress reduction and eliminating the detrimental effects of over active trigger points?
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