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4 simple remedies to add to your routine to relieve constipation symptoms, from a pelvic-health specialist

Dana Solomon   

4 simple remedies to add to your routine to relieve constipation symptoms, from a pelvic-health specialist
  • Constipation is common, but you can introduce things to your routine to relieve symptoms.
  • Doing abdominal massage after a meal and getting more movement into your day can help.

Have you ever noticed that if you drink coffee daily, it's almost as if just the smell of coffee beans can get your intestines moving? Or have you found yourself going straight for the restroom when you walk into work? It's because your bowels love routine.

However, there are also many things that can interfere with proper bowel function. Medication, stress, travel, hormones, nutrition, muscle tension, and even your positioning on the toilet all play a role.

About 63 million Americans experience constipation, but understanding the principles of healthy digestion and habit building can help reduce symptoms. By incorporating simple, everyday routines that naturally stimulate digestive movement, we can train our bowels to function better.

As an occupational therapist who specializes in pelvic health, I frequently see patients with constipation and help them relieve their symptoms by getting their bowels into a routine. Here are some simple remedies to help you get your own symptoms under control at home.

Drink a warm beverage

Starting the morning — or whatever time you aim to establish a bowel routine — off with hot tea, coffee, or water can do wonders.

One of the jobs of the small intestine is to pull out most of the water consumed via food and drinks. If you're dehydrated, waste can harden and become stuck. Adding more water of any temperature to the digestive tract helps keep stools soft.

Drinking hot beverages can break down food faster than cold or room-temperature water, as the heat widens blood vessels, increases blood flow, and speeds up digestive motility. A couple of small studies have found warm beverages may positively affect intestinal movements.

I recommend aiming to drink 1 ounce of water (of any temperature) for every 2 pounds of your body weight each day. It may also be helpful to include a hot beverage as part of your routine.

Try an abdominal massage after eating

Abdominal massage can increase the frequency of evacuation and reduce symptoms of difficult defecation. Many pelvic-health professionals refer to it as the "I Love U" belly massage because you trace the letters I, L, and U on your belly.

It's easy and takes only about 5 to 10 minutes. Aim to do this massage 30 to 60 minutes after a meal. The steps are:

  • Lie down on your back.

  • On your left side, just under your rib cage, apply gentle pressure as you move your hand in a straight line (like the letter I) down the top of the left hip bone. Repeat 10 times.

  • Then, from right to left, run your hand in a straight line across the top of your belly just beneath the rib cage, applying gentle pressure. Continue applying pressure, and run your hand along the same line down your left hip bone as you just did in the previous step to create an inverted L shape. Again, repeat 10 times.

  • Finally, gently apply pressure from the hip bone on the right side and move up to your rib cage, across your belly, then over and down your left hip bone to create an inverted U. Repeat 10 times.

Introduce movement into your day

Movement brings blood flow to the muscles in our digestive system, which then massages our food down the digestive tract. Break up your day with several 10-minute walks, or find aerobic exercises you like to do and add them to your routine, such as jogging, swimming, or biking. As long as there's consistency, these are all great ways to jump-start your digestive system.

Stretches or yoga positions such as twists, side bends, and forward folds are also helpful, as they can put pressure on the abdomen, which encourages circulation and reduces bloating.

Go for solid foods before a breakfast smoothie

With the potential to be packed with fruits and fiber, shakes and smoothies may feel like a healthy option, but they can contribute to digestive problems for a few reasons. Additives and artificial sweeteners can cause constipation, bloating, and gas. Everyone's gut has its own delicate balance, so what may be helpful for one person can cause issues for someone else. If you tend to start your day with a protein shake or smoothie and experience constipation, try swapping it out for a breakfast of solid food.

The physical act of chewing increases saliva production, which signals the gut to metabolize and digest. Chewing — and chewing your food well — supports digestion. My favorite solid breakfast go-tos are oatmeal with berries, yogurt and fruit (such as kiwi, raspberries, apples, and pears) with chia seeds or flaxseeds, and whole-grain toast with avocado.

Habits always take a bit of time to establish, but with consistency, you may surprise yourself with how happy your gut and bowels are with these simple daily routines.

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