Massage - for your gut!

Author: Kara Schuft, PT, DPT

Ahhhh massage. That wonderful luxury treatment we tend to experience more or less often depending on how lucky we are, how much time we have, or upon our cash flow. Personally, I feel like a million bucks after I’ve gotten a massage. We know that massage in general has a variety of fabulous benefits:

·         Relieving pain

·         Decreasing stress and anxiety

·         Helping movement of the lymphatic system

·         Improving circulation

·         Scar tissue mobilization

·         Assisting digestive disorders

It’s that last topic I want to focus on. Massage for your gut. Our abdomen is not an area most people typically think of when they think about getting a whole body massage. I can tell you, as a physical therapist, I see a number of people who are not only in pain, but also have digestive issues. This can range from diarrhea, to bloating, to constipation. I also have clients with diagnosed impaired mobility of their intestinal tract. That movement, peristalsis, which keeps food going through the small and large intestine, is absent or diminished in some people. It turns out, actually physically moving the tissue of your abdomen can help with digestion, stimulating peristalsis, and alleviating constipation. I want to share with you my favorite technique. 

I was taught this as the “I Love You” massage. It’s a technique often taught in classes about infant massage to help babies with their digestion or gassiness. Start by resting or lying quietly.

1.  Using your fingertips, you apply light pressure in either a stroking motion or small circles.

2. Start with your hands on the left hand side of your abdomen, below the rib cage, and stroke or make small circles down towards your left hip. This is the “I” of the “I Love You” massage.

3. You are going to make the strokes or circles in an upside down “L” shape. Run your fingertips from the right side of your upper abdomen, across under your ribs, and down the left side.

4.  Now you are going to run through the whole path. This is the “U”. Start on the bottom right of your abdomen. Stroke or make small circles up the right side, across under the rib cage, and down the left side. Then I show people how to circle slightly inwards towards their pubic bone.

Up the right, across under the rib cage, down the left and inwards, moving in a clockwise motion (if you are looking down upon your own abdomen)

Up the right, across under the rib cage, down the left and inwards, moving in a clockwise motion (if you are looking down upon your own abdomen)

Essentially you are massaging along the path of your large intestine. Our colon starts roughly in the bottom right of our abdomen, travels up the right hand side, turns and runs across below our rib cage, and then down the left side and in towards the pubic bone.

When I teach this massage for people to do at home I have them start with 10 minutes. However, anecdotally, many people tell me 15-20 minutes really gets things going! After about 5 minutes of this massage  my insides start gurgling and making noises.

For many years I worked as a physical therapist in a hospital setting. A big problem is constipation resulting from either medication side effects, post surgical changes, or the fact that in general people in the hospital don’t move as much (and exercise such as walking also helps regulate our digestive system). One of the first “exercises” I would teach them is how to do the “I Love You” abdominal massage. Time and time again I have people come back to me and say that massaging their abdominal tissue helped their digestive issues.

Give it a try today!