Reflexology A to Z: C is for Constipation

No pun intended but I struggled to get started with this post! I often start with an image search. Have you any idea what constipation pictures look like? All horrid little jokey cartoons of straining faces. Why do people think it’s funny? By the way did you know there are whole websites dedicated to constipation jokes? I don’t think it’s amusing ( indulge me ..just one…..the constipated accountant who couldn’t budget….sorry) But really, it’s no laughing matter if you are a sufferer. It’s uncomfortable, can be painful and means you are not functioning at your best.  Long term or chronic constipation can cause severe complications. One  ‘measure’ of constipation is to have less than three bowel movements a week but it really isn’t that simple.

What is Constipation?

That may sound like a really stupid question…….I mean , we all know don’t we? Constipation can mean painful poos, hard dry pellets, infrequent stools, feeling as if you need to poo but can’t…it’s a whole host of poo related misery. Our bodies need to get that waste out. Of course what it really is , is a great big message to tell us that somehow or other our fantastic processing system  is seriously messed up. I’ve always been fascinated by the digestive system. ( I wrote  a rap to help me learn the digestive hormones for GCSE Biology…weird I know) .

So, the digestive system.

What is so amazing about the digestive system is all the different elements, like a really complex factory assembly line.  First of all…..your teeth: they chomp food into bits , the taste buds stimulate the saliva ( a digestive juice) which all begins the process of digestion. And the food is barely off your plate before all that is going on! By the way the amount of chewing you do can be a contributory factor to problems. Use those teeth to start the process well!  I could wax lyrical about this system , but there’s still a long way for that food to go and I need to get to the problem. Suffice to say that if a process is complex there’s  opportunity for it to go wrong. What’s miraculous about our digestive system is that it  works  so fabulously despite all we do to sabotage it.

What goes wrong?

When we are constipated we can’t eliminate the waste  product of our factory process: so we need to look at the stages of that process to work out what’s going wrong. We know that our system needs fibre, light bulky material to act as roughage, to keep things moving but did you know you also need water? Dehydration does not help and can cause a sluggish system. As well as how we eat, what we eat or what we don’t eat can cause constipation. Another factor is how much we move about. Lack of exercise will not help to keep all those moving parts in tip top form.  Our digestive system is equally prone to psychological factors. Anxiety affects hormone production, and digestive enzyme production. If truth be known this system is so complex that doctors often don’t really know the cause. There is even a word for having an unknown cause, idiopathic constipation. I suppose it sounds like a diagnosis but really if a doctor says you have this, the doctor is saying ‘ you’re constipated but I don’t know why, so let’s try some medication. ‘

What if you know why your constipated?

For many people the real culprit is medication they have to take for other conditions. Painkillers and  iron supplements are the ones most of us know about.
Iron in tablet form, and some painkillers, seem to disturb the normal balance of microbes in the gut , causing a condition called Dysbiosis , a reduction of the speed of getting that digested food through. If it’s there longer than it should be it dries up and is hard to shift. Doctors can confidently say this is opioid-induced or non-idiopathic constipation but will still ‘try’ medication. Laxatives. Did you know that over- dependence on laxatives can cause constipation? Or that you will have to have been constipated for 6 to 8 months, oh and laxatives haven’t worked, before any other suggestion is made? Talk about back logs!

Do you want any more gory details? Chronic constipation can result in haemorrhoids, anal fissures and more and more problems in the gut. And oh my goodness don’t even get me started on how important good gut health is.

Can Reflexology help?

Reflexology is described as a process which ‘rebalances’ the system. If your condition is chronic a good reflexologist would want to work as a complementary practitioner alongside your GP or specialist. There have been studies ( Norton and Barriball 2010 Kings College London) which have suggested that reflexology is effective for the treatment of idiopathic constipation. 94% of the subjects reported improvement over time. I have certainly had clients with opioid-induced constipation who report that after treatment they have found relief.

It seems as if sufferers are bombarded with advice on what to eat, what not to eat, how to sit differently on the toilet: doctors, according to NICE guidelines, should focus on diet, hydration and exercise before offering medication. The truth is that you are already doing something to your system which is causing it to malfunction and you may not know what. Will laxatives work? Yes for most of us but they are a short term measure. Reflexology, massage of the pressure points for the digestive system is not invasive or addictive and it introduces no new substances. It encourages the body to heal itself. Many people find it relaxing and it may just be the trigger your system needs.


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