Abdominal Massage and Constipation Relief

If you’re struggling with constipation—one of the most common digestive troubles—a do-it-yourself massage might bring you relief. Performing self-massage on your abdomen could potentially ease constipation in a number of ways, such as by stimulating the muscles involved in producing bowel movements and soothing chronic stress (an issue closely linked with many digestive complaints).

Woman receiving abdominal massage

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Constipation is usually defined as having a bowel movement fewer than three times per week. In addition to stress, certain lifestyle issues can lead to constipation. These include eating a low-fiber diet, not getting enough exercise, and not drinking enough water. Many people also experience constipation while traveling.

Research on Massage and Constipation

Even though massage isn’t a standard treatment for constipation, some scientific research shows that it may help in restoring regularity.

For example, a report published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies in 2011 reviewed a number of clinical trials focusing on abdominal massage and its use as a treatment for chronic constipation. The results showed that abdominal massage may provide constipation relief in part by promoting peristalsis (a series of wave-like muscle contractions that help move food through your digestive tract).

That same report also found that abdominal massage may help lessen colonic transit time, which is the amount of time it takes digested food to pass through your colon (i.e., the last segment of your digestive tract). In addition, the report determined that abdominal massage can help alleviate constipation-related pain and discomfort.

In clinical trials, people with constipation have also reported improvements in their quality of life after using an abdominal massage. However, some research (including a small clinical trial published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies in 2009) suggests that using abdominal massage for constipation relief isn’t likely to lead to a decrease in the use of laxatives (the most commonly used treatment for constipation).

How to Use Massage for Constipation Relief

Several massage techniques may be helpful in relieving constipation and promoting bowel movements. These are generally performed while lying down.

One popular technique involves placing your palm on your abdomen and then making small, circular, clockwise motions around your belly button. You can also widen these circles as you go so that the massage covers your entire abdomen.

Another technique begins by placing your hand below your breastbone, then gliding that hand down the length of your abdomen in one smooth stroke. Immediately repeat the movement with your other hand, and continue this cycle for several minutes.

When practicing self-massage, start out by using light, gentle pressure, then gradually increase the pressure as you go along. If you experience pain or tenderness, lighten up and return to a comfortable level of pressure.

To reap the full benefits of abdominal massage, try performing massage two times a day, aiming for a 20-minute session each time. Incorporating deep breathing into each session may also help when using self-massage for constipation relief.

Before giving a massage or any other home remedy a try, it's always a good idea to discuss it with your healthcare provider to see if it's appropriate rather than attempting to self-treat. Pregnant women, for example, should avoid any type of massage on their abdomen. It should also be noted that constipation can sometimes signal an underlying health condition that requires medical treatment, such as an underactive thyroid. Other symptoms like abdominal pain may be present, but sometimes constipation may be the only symptom. 

Other Ways to Relieve Constipation 

Keep in mind that self-massage alone isn’t likely to treat constipation, and the goal should be to improve overall digestion to keep things running smoothly. To stay regular, it’s essential to drink at least eight glasses of water each day, eat plenty of fiber-rich foods, and exercise regularly. 

Several other alternative treatments may help fight constipation. These treatments include therapies like acupressure and biofeedback, as well as natural remedies like probiotics. There are other natural constipation remedies available, but before trying any, consult your medical caregiver for advice. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does abdominal massage help with constipation?

    Abdominal massage may help with constipation by promoting contractions of the large intestine. This stimulates waste to move through the gut and be removed from the body.

  • Does abdominal massage help with bloating?

    Abdominal self-massage may help with bloating caused by gas. In addition, it can help soften stool, speed up the movement of stool through the gut, and reduce the need to use laxatives for constipation. Abdominal massage may not help with painful bloating caused by disease, infection, or another reason.

  • Should I rub my stomach clockwise or counter-clockwise?

    Rubbing your stomach in a clockwise motion is usually recommended for abdominal massage, but other techniques may slightly differ.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sinclair M. The use of abdominal massage to treat chronic constipation. J Body Mov Ther. 2011;15(4):436-45. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2010.07.007

  2. Lämås K, Lindholm L, Stenlund H, Engström B, Jacobsson C. Effects of abdominal massage in management of constipation—a randomized controlled trial. Int J Nurs Stud. 2009;46(6):759-67. doi:10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2009.01.007

  3. National Health Service (NHS). Self-abdominal massage.

Additional Reading

By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.