What to Know About Massage for Constipation

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on September 25, 2023
3 min read

Constipation is one of the most common reasons why people see a doctor. Massage may be one way to help relieve long-term (chronic) constipation.

Constipation happens when you have difficult, uncomfortable, or few bowel movements. Normally, your colon absorbs water and minerals from the waste, which makes it solid. Your muscles contract to move the solid waste through your rectum and out of your body.

If your digestive system moves slowly or if the muscles don’t contract enough, your colon absorbs too much water. This makes the waste hard, dry, and difficult to move. This is constipation.

Lots of things can cause constipation, including: 

  • Not enough exercise
  • Not enough water
  • Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
  • Medications
  • Aging
  • Thyroid disease
  • Misusing laxatives
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Brain disorders that keep your intestines from working
  • Spine injuries
  • Ignoring the urge to poop
  • Lifestyle changes like traveling

Constipation can be uncomfortable, but it’s not usually a serious health problem. Some people feel that they need to have a bowel movement every day, but it’s different for everyone. Some can go a few days without passing stool.

You might be constipated if:

  • You strain while passing stool
  • You feel bloated
  • It hurts to pass stool
  • You feel sluggish
  • Your stomach hurts 
  • Your stool is hard and lumpy

Most people can find constipation relief by drinking more water, getting more fiber in their diet, and exercising more often. 

An abdominal massage for constipation is best for certain people and causes of constipation. This includes:

  • Long-term constipation
  • Constipation with stool leakage
  • Constipation with loss of bowel control
  • People with stable spine injuries or disabilities
  • People with brain disorders like Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis
  • People who are immobile 
  • Older people

Abdominal massage can help teach your bowel muscles what to do and ease some of your symptoms. Research shows that massaging your abdomen when you’re constipated can help:

  • Ease pain and discomfort
  • Lower the time it takes for waste to move through your intestines (transit time)
  • Trigger muscle contraction and relaxation

Massage techniques for constipation have different names, including: 

If you want to try it, start by lying on your back. Put a small amount of massage oil on your abdomen. Next:

  1. Bring your knees to your chest and gently squeeze for 1 or 2 minutes. This can help release some of the tension in your abdomen. 
  2. Put both hands at the bottom of your abdomen in the middle and below your belly button. Pull your hands up with moderate pressure toward your ribs. Repeat 10 times.
  3. Put both hands on the small of your back. Bring them around to the front and down over your hips toward your groin. Repeat 10 times.
  4. Make a fist with your right hand and place it on your abdomen at hipbone level. Press firmly into your belly and slide your hand in a circular motion up toward your ribs, across your belly, down to your left hip bone, and back across the bottom of your belly. Repeat 10 times.
  5. With your hand still in a fist, start at your left ribs and make firm circular motions. Slide down to your left hip bone. Repeat 10 times and then switch to the right side. Start on your right side at your hip level and move up to your ribcage.
  6. Finish the massage with 2 minutes of full circular massage around your belly, starting from the bottom right.

Time your massage to when you would normally expect to have a bowel movement: about 30 minutes to 1 hour after eating. 

Stomach massages work well for people who have long-term health problems, older people, and people with disabilities. But some shouldn't use massage to help constipation, including those who:

  • Have inflammatory bowel disease
  • Have a swollen colon with irritable bowel syndrome 
  • Are pregnant
  • Have an unstable spine injury
  • Have a stomach wound like stitches or other sores

If you have constipation with any of these symptoms, you might have a bowel emergency:

  • Waves of severe cramping
  • Throwing up 
  • Severe pain
  • Loud gurgling noises in your belly
  • Feeling gassy but can’t pass wind

If you notice any of these symptoms, see your doctor right away. If you’re struggling with constipation, talk to your doctor about ways to manage the problem.