Here’s Why Rocking Back and Forth To Poop Actually Works, According to Pelvic Floor Therapists

Photo: Stocksy/ Christina Hussey
There's nothing worse than feeling like you have to poop, only to spend 15 fruitless minutes on the toilet squeezing every muscle you can think of to move things along.  As you watch the seconds tick by, it can be tempting to try just about any technique to speed up the process and get on with your day (especially since experts recommend limiting your toilet time to 5 minutes or less). This is when rocking back and forth to poop sometimes enters the picture—and for good reason.

"Rocking can, at times, help with bowel evacuation," says Melissa L McElroy, PT, WCS, a pelvic health specialist at ProRehab in Louisville, Kentucky. For one, it encourages voluntary relaxation of the pelvic floor, which will improve the sphincter's ability to open and allow passage of stool, says Julia Connolly, PT, DPT, an orthopedic and pelvic health expert at Fusion Wellness and Physical Therapy in Los Angeles. Second, when you rock, your pelvis tilts backward and tucks in your tailbone (similar to when your feet are elevated on a footstool), and the orientation of your rectum aligns more directly with the pull of gravity downwards, says Dr. Conolly. All of those things can work together to help you pass that stubborn poop, but it may not be the best way.

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"The need to rock back and forth to have a bowel movement can be a sign that there's an inefficiency in the system – something's not working together to help the stool come through," says Dr. McElroy. So, if you find yourself stuck in a toilet-rocking situation far too frequently, Dr. McElroy has a couple more effective techniques that might work better.

"The need to rock back and forth to have a bowel movement can be a sign that something's not working together to help the stool come through."—Melissa L McElroy, PT, DPT, a pelvic health specialist at ProRehab.

3 tips to relieve constipation without rocking back and forth to poop

1. Get in the ideal poop position

Both Dr. Connolly and Dr. McElroy recommend getting into the right position for pooping—with the help of a step stool (or two, one for each foot). "While sitting on the commode, place your feet flat on top of the stepstool. Your knees should be higher than your hips and slightly farther apart than hip-width," says Dr. McElroy. This position helps to relax the sphincter—an important muscle within your pelvic floor that acts to close off the rectum, she says. So, in this position, you're allowing for the rectum to be more open and for gravity to assist in going number 2. This position is similar to how rocking back and forth to poop works, but may be more effective.

2. Do some belly breathing

Maybe the worst thing you can do while constipated is push, strain, or force poop out when it just doesn't want to make a grand exit. Instead, says Dr. McElroy, try taking deep breaths that allow for proper abdominal expansion. Here's how to do it: Inhale through your nose and let the air push your belly out. Then, exhale and allow your belly to return to baseline. This can help your muscles relax and expand rather than contract, which can actually stall your poop efforts. If you feel like it's just not happening for you, though, you can always get off the pot and come back to try again in a bit.

Belly breathing while stressed can also help constipation in the long run. Stress can cause constipation, so deep breathing exercises can help with both.

3. Give yourself a belly massage

Massage can stimulate gut motility—the passage of food and stool through the GI tract—and increase the natural wave-like muscle movements that move waste through your system and out of your body, says Dr. Connolly. "[Massage] also adds mechanical pressure to encourage the passage of stool through each part of your colon," she says.

With your hands, you'll want to follow the natural course of stool passage through your colon. Dr. Connolly recommends massaging your abdomen in small clockwise circles starting in the lower right abdomen. Then, you work directly upwards towards your ribs, crossing over just above the level of your belly button to the left side, then directly downwards to your lower left abdomen, she says.

Is it okay to rock back and forth to poop if that works?

"While we want to help our patients have an optimal experience with pooping, we don't want to make them anxious by telling them there is only one way to do it," says Dr. Connolly. Ultimately, people will find the moves and techniques that are right for them. If the rocking is how you can have a bowel movement, then gentle rocking on the toilet is a fine thing to do, she adds. Your gut likes habit and pattern, according to both experts, so finding techniques that keep things moving or potentially resolve a colorectal traffic jam are great tools to have up your sleeve.

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