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Abdominal Massage & Constipation

The study, “Effects of abdominal massage in management of constipation,” involved 58 subjects with constipation, 50 of whom were women, with a mean age of 63.7 years. Participants were randomly assigned to either the control group or intervention group for the study.
Subjects in both groups continued to take any prescribed laxatives throughout the duration of the research. Those in the intervention group, however, received 15 minutes of massage a day, five days a week, for eight weeks.

The massage took place in a secluded room with the subject supine on a bed. Classical music played in the background, and blankets were available. The touch therapy consisted of very gentle strokes with light pressure, eight minutes on the hands and seven minutes on the abdomen.

Each session began with the participant taking a deep breath, followed by massage with strokes and circular movements to the back of the hands, as well as the fingers and palms. The abdomen was massaged with longitudinal and transverse strokes and circular movements in the direction of the colon.

Measurements were collected three times: at baseline, week four and week eight. The Gastrointestinal Symptom Rating Scale (GSRS), a self-administered questionnaire, was used to evaluate gastrointestinal function.

Results of the study showed that, at week 8, abdominal massage had significantly decreased the severity of gastrointestinal symptoms assessed with GSRS, especially constipation and abdominal pain syndrome. It also significantly increased the number of bowel movements, as compared to the control group. However, there was no reduction in the intake of laxatives in either the intervention or controlgroup.

“The intervention group did not significantly reduce laxative intake during the study period compared to the control group,” state the study’s authors. “Considering the decrease in severity of symptoms in the intervention group, abdominal massage could complement laxative use rather than be a substitute for laxatives.”

The researchers recommend possibly implementing abdominal massage for people with constipation who are admitted to hospitals or nursing homes. They also advocate instructing constipated patients to perform their own abdominal massage.


Authors: Kristina Lamas, Lars Lindholm, Hans Stenlund, Birgitta Engstrom and Catrine Jacobsson.

Source: Umea University, Umea, Sweden. Originally published in International Journal of Nursing Studies (2009).

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