It’s not a topic that you normally have at dinner with a bunch of friends (unless perhaps you’re an osteopath!) but constipation is a common problem causing discomfort and affecting about 14% of people worldwide and generally women more than men (1). Constipation as defined by the NHS is going less than once every 3 days (2).
However, constipation may also possibly be defined by an individual as what is ‘normal’ for them. For instance, if you have always had a bowel movement every day and then suddenly you are only going once every 2-3 days, then you may consider yourself to be constipated. Constipation is also defined as incomplete evacuation, the feeling of not having completely emptied your bowel, or stools that are difficult or painful to pass due to size or dryness of the stool (2).
People often associate lack of fibre with constipation with fibre known to improve stool consistency and movement through the digestive tract. However, while many people may find increasing their fibre intake helpful, especially if it is already lacking in their diet, it may potentially make constipation worse by further enlarging stool which is already difficult to pass (3).
Other lifestyle factors that also have an influence on your bowel movements are lack of hydration, acute or chronic stress, poor sleep habits, inactivity and as a side effect of taking certain medications (2).
So how may an osteopath help your constipation?
Osteopaths are mostly known for treating musculoskeletal pain, particularly lower back pain or joint pain. However, the osteopathic philosophy is to aid the body’s own innate healing mechanism by improving the functions of blood flow, drainage of body fluids like lymph, and innervation. This philosophy applies not only to muscles and joints but also to the body’s organs, known as the viscera.
Osteopaths who work with the viscera may call themselves visceral osteopaths, however visceral osteopathy is used within the normal scope of osteopathic treatment which always looks at the whole body to help address where pain and dysfunction may be originating from.
As there are many issues that may be contributing to your constipation, during the first consultation the osteopath will try to get a clear picture of what that may be and what needs to be addressed, or whether you need to be referred on, for example to your GP.
Treatment may include techniques which aim to improve movement though the colon by working directly on the abdomen, help reduce restricted fascia, muscles and ligaments that may be impeding blood and lymph flow to the viscera and improve innervation to the viscera by working specifically on spine.
Additionally, you will be advised on any lifestyle changes your osteopath feels might be helpful to aid your discomfort.
1. Suares NC, and Ford AC. Prevalence of, and risk factors for, chronic idiopathic constipation in the community: systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2011; 106 (9): 1582-91.
2. NHS Choices (UK). Constipation [Internet]. NHS (UK); 2017. [Cited 2018 19 Feb]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/constipation/.
3. Ho KS, Tan CY, Mohd Daud MA, et al. Stopping or reducing dietary fiber intake reduces constipation and its associated symptoms. World J Gastroenterol. 2012; 18(33): 4593-6.
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