There are all sorts of euphemisms for constipation, from being "backed up" to "traffic-jammed" to just not being able "to go." Similarly, there are a lot of causes for constipation. You’ve probably heard about fiber’s importance for regular digestion and poops, but your pelvic floor is also integral to staying regular, according to Heather Jeffcoat, DPT, pelvic floor therapist and doctor of physical therapy at Fusion Wellness & Physical Therapy.
In case you’re unfamiliar, the pelvic floor is a hammock-like group of muscles that sit in your pelvis and support the bladder, bowel, and reproductive organs. They’re responsible for controlling when you pee and poop and are integral to pleasure during sex. Your pelvic floor can be both the cause and solution to constipation. Below, Dr. Jeffcoat explains why that is and what to do when you can’t go.
“The pelvic floor muscles can be non-relaxing, meaning that when they are meant to relax during constipation, they stay in a short position,” says Dr. Jeffcoat. The effect is equivalent to a ‘kink in a hose,’ where the rectum becomes closed off so nothing can pass. Aside from consuming the right amount of fiber for you and staying hydrated, there are many ways to get unjammed so-to-speak.
The following constipation tips can help when you, and your colon, are in a pinch.
1. Try some yoga poses
“Great exercises to assist with this are diaphragm breathing in child’s pose or happy baby yoga positions,” says Dr. Jeffcoat. This is because they promote a lengthening of the digestive organs and relaxation of the pelvic floor.
“Digestion occurs when our autonomic nervous system is in a parasympathetic state. This is commonly referred to as our rest and digest state,” says Dr. Jeffcoat. If we are under high stress, this will keep our autonomic nervous system in a sympathetic, or ‘fight or flight state, she adds. If we are in this state for long periods, digestion will be affected and can be a contributing factor to constipation. A way to disengage your nervous system and enter digestion mode is to breathe deeply. Trying to expand your stomach as you breathe in for four counts and out for four counts is a great place to start.
3. Toilet squat stool
Dr. Jeffcoat also recommends that you use a toilet stool (such as a squatty potty) will help improve the anorectal angle and allow you to have more ease during bowel movements.
“Start at your left ribcage and massage down in little circles alternating with long strokes toward your inner hip (pelvic) bone. This follows the path of the descending colon, the last part of your large intestine before it enters your sigmoid colon, then rectum,” says Dr. Jeffcoat. “Do this motion for about 3 minutes.” This should be done slowly, with deep breathing, to encourage your digestive organs to move your stool out via a movement called “peristalsis.”
5. Light movement
Dr. Jeffcoat recommends people consider taking a walk or doing clockwise and counterclockwise hip circles on an exercise ball. This is especially true for people who spend a lot of time sitting throughout the day. Moving can help, well, move things through and out of your body, she explains.
Constipation happens to a lot of people, and it can be really frustrating. In addition to these constipation tips, Dr. Jeffcoat recommends hydrating and making sure that you don’t strain when you’re on the toilet. She adds that if you don’t go within 5 minutes of being on the pot, you should call it quits and try again later.
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