Constipation is a very common, very frustrating problem to have. It is often exacerbated by times of stress, change in routine, or decrease in physical activity, all of which you may be experiencing during the COVID 19 pandemic! If you find yourself experiencing a change in bowel regularity, have difficulty passing your stools, or have hard stools, you may be constipated. This blog will outline some effective at-home strategies to help eliminate the problem.
The most important thing to do when experiencing constipation is to drink plenty of water. The average person needs about 64 ounces, or 1 gallon, of water per day. Your colon’s job is to reabsorb water from waste, so if you become dehydrated your colon will hold on to stool longer, trying to absorb as much water as possible. Dry stool is hard stool, and it is very difficult and often painful to pass. If drinking water is not your thing, you can add lemon or cucumber to make it more exciting. Start gradually and increase your water intake by a couple glasses every day to ease the transition.
Importance of Activity
Another common cause of constipation is lack of activity. If you are sedentary and spend a lot of time sitting or lounging on the couch, this will slow your digestive tract. Taking a walk outside, around your living room, or on a trail (staying at least 6 feet away from other people not in your immediate household!) for just 15 minutes a day can help keep things regular. Other ideas are to do body-weight exercises at home or in your yard like squats, lunges, pushups, jumping jacks, burpees, or just put on your favorite music and dance. Even a small increase in your physical activity can make a big change in your gut transit time.
Impact of Stress
Bowels are very sensitive organs and are easily affected by stress. Increase in stress, such as a pandemic affecting your life and causing uncertainty, anxiety, perhaps financial hardships, can cause bowels to shut down. This is due to a shift in your nervous system preparing your body for fight or flight. This shift is great if you really do need to physically run away from danger, but not so great when the danger is unseen and intangible. Finding ways to reduce stress will be covered in more detail in another blog, but exercise, talking to loved ones on the phone or video call, spending time with a pet, and breathing exercises are all effective. Many generous folks are also offering free virtual yoga classes, and your physical therapist is likely offering telehealth visits in which they can walk you through different breathing techniques or exercise.
What is ILU Massage?
Our final tip for improving bowel function is to practice bowel massage, sometimes called ILU or “I love you” massage. This is performed over the abdomen along the path of the colon, and it encourages the natural peristalsis of your bowels. This helps to keep things moving through effectively. To perform, you start at your right hip, making firm circles. Make 3-5 circles in each spot and cover the entire path of the colon. This will be a horseshoe shape, starting from your right hip, coming up and around your belly button, and down towards your left hip. Your physical therapist will be able to instruct you in this technique and demonstrate via a telehealth visit.
Written by Genevieve Tatara DPT- Pelvic Floor Specialist at Aquacare Physical Therapy – Lewes Location.