Pelvic Health 101: Constipation

In the midst of this season of consumption, it seems appropriate to talk about elimination.  What goes in must come out, after all.

Constipation is a common problem, with effects ranging from simply a sore stomach or grumpy demeanor to much more serious long term complications.  Here are some simple tips that will help you on your way to happier bowel habits!

  • Bowels are habitual. Get into a routine of having regular bowel movements, whatever that means to you.  In the morning, after you eat, before bed, once a day or more.
  • Don’t ignore the urge. Anytime you feel the need to go, make the time and space to go.  Our bowels tend to be very polite, offering a signal that it’s time, and if we ignore it, the urge goes away.  The poop will then move back up and into your intestines where it dries out and gets harder.  This will make it more difficult to pass when we do eventually go to the bathroom.  Over time, we can train ourselves to not feel the urge at all, which leads to long term constipation problems.
  • Drink lots of water. Adequate fluid intake keeps things moving along.  Caffeine and alcohol are both dehydrating, so be sure to drink more water if you are drinking these beverages.
  • Eat enough fiber. Adequate fiber is 25-35 grams/day.  Eating lots of vegetables, adding bran or psyllium fiber, flax or hemp seeds to your diet are easy ways to start.  Make sure if you are taking a fiber supplement such as Metamucil, you are also increasing your water intake at the same time.  If you are not used to eating a lot of fiber, add more to your diet gradually.
  • Exercise! More body movement helps with bowel movement.  Go for a walk or do some stretches to get things moving along.
  • Calming the nervous system relaxes the muscles around the belly and in the pelvic floor.  Our body needs to be in “rest and digest” mode to allow food to move through the intestines and our muscles need to be able to relax and release to allow a bowel movement to happen.  Deep breathing or relaxation techniques after a meal or while on the toilet can help if your muscles are tense.
  • Rub your belly. Massaging your abdomen in a circular, clockwise direction can help move things along.
  • Sit on the toilet properly. Our bowels work best when in a squatting position.  Putting a stool under your feet so your knees are above your hips is a simple way to put your body in an optimal elimination position.
  • Don’t push! Don’t strain! Don’t sit for hours! If you can’t poop after 5 minutes, get up, walk around, and try again later.  Pushing and straining causes extra pressure on the pelvic floor and can lead to long term complications.  Instead, try twisting while sitting on the toilet, breathing like you are blowing out birthday candles, or humming.

If you struggle with constipation or would like to have happier poops, a pelvic floor physiotherapist can help.  There are many factors that may be contributing to difficulty with bowel movements, and being assessed by a qualified professional is the best course of action.

Here’s to happy, healthy bowels in the New Year!

Written by Kristie Norquay, Pelvic Health Physiotherapist