The Scoop When Kids Have Trouble with Poop

 

Kiddo

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

I spend a lot of my time at work talking about poop. In fact, poop discussions run in my family. My great grandmother, a nurse in the 1920’s, would always inquire about her charges and her children’s movements when they’d complain of any ailment. This scatological interest was passed to my grandfather, a civil engineer, designing and working in wastewater treatment plants, to my mother who was a nurse practitioner, who dealt with digestive issues and famously asked a guest at her parents’ dinner party when she was a child, “how are your bowel movements, lately?” This familial interest in the distal end of the alimentary canal was bequeathed unto me and I now spend much of my working life trying to help people of all ages with issues defecating to live more comfortable and full lives when it comes to bowel movements.

Anyone who has had any issues concerning their ability to poop, or to hold it, can attest to how much havoc issues with bowel movements can cause in one’s life. This is especially true when it comes to children. Children often have continence requirements to attend school, camp, and other activities. Not to mention other children may not always be very kind to another child who is experiencing difficulty with their bowels. Aside from the obvious issues of constipation and incontinence, kids with bowel issues can experience other symptoms like pain in their belly or with defecation, foul body odor, problems with their bladder, including incontinence, as well as skidmarks in their underwear or itchy bums. It really does all come down to poop.

The largest driver of bowel problems in kids is constipation. Constipation is surprisingly common and occurs in 4-36% of children. It accounts for 3% of visits to the pediatrician and 30% of visits to pediatric gastroenterologists. Constipation can be tricky to diagnose and many people who have children who are constipated, do not identify constipation as the culprit for issues like bowel and urinary incontinence, and pain. According to Afzar and colleagues, constipation would be missed nearly 50% of the time in children, if infrequent bowel movements was the only criteria used in assessing constipation in children.

So what criteria do we use to assess constipation in kiddos? We obviously look at how often a child is defecating. Two or less bowel movements a week is considered constipation, but it is important to keep in mind that a child with difficulty evacuating may move one or two small pellets multiple times a day and still be severely constipated.  Check out the Bristol Stool Chart here to determine if your child’s BM’s are normal. Types one and 2 indicated constipation. Bowel incontinence is also an indicator of constipation in children. In fact, 90% of children with constipation experience fecal soiling. Kiddos with large fecal masses felt in the rectum by a doctor or through the abdomen, those with history of painful bowel movements, and those who produce large toilet clogging poops are exhibiting symptoms of constipation. Children with constipation may also exhibit retentive posture in an effort to prevent painful bowel movements. They may go up on their toes, squeeze their butt cheeks and thighs together, cry, and rock back and forth. Retentive postures can trick parents into thinking their child is trying to defecate when in fact they are working hard to keep everything inside. If you see any of these symptoms in a child under 4 years lasting for a month, and over 2 months in kids over 4, you are dealing with constipation

Constipation can be divided into two different types, functional and constipation due to an organic or pathological cause. Around 95% of constipation in both adults and children is considered functional. Functional constipation can occur for a variety of different reasons in children. One of the most common reasons is that children can get in the habit of delaying or trying to prevent defecation. Children are often just as busy as the rest of us. They may simply be too busy in the morning to have a full bowel movement. Once they arrive at school, they are faced with bathrooms that have doors that may or may not lock, or they may have to contend with intimidating multi-stalled public toilets. Either way both are not conducive to pooping. After school is usually filled with activities and a mad dash to do homework. You can see that it may be very difficult to schedule in a good time to use the toilet. Kids also delay going to the bathroom because it hurts or may be uncomfortable to go. The more they delay their bowel movements, the more uncomfortable it can be to go. Thus creating a negative feedback loop that just feeds back on itself and worsens the constipation symptoms.

Weeks of delay whether it be secondary to pain, scheduling, or plain old distraction, can cause a big build up of poo in the very end of the digestive system, the rectum.  The accumulated fecal matter may be backed up through the  entire length of the colon. This big build up of feces in the rectum causes it to  stretch out.  A stretched out rectum is not good at holding feces in, or sensing that it is time to go to the bathroom, making the problem even worse. Furthermore, soft poo will easily slide by the hard fecal blockage and create smears or “skidmarks” in the underwear, or even more severe incontinence mistakenly labeled diarrhea. Chronic fecal impaction, and fecal withholding can alter how the muscles that control continence work (the pelvic floor), which may further worsen this constipation syndrome. Skidmarks, constipation and fecal incontinence are not anyone’s fault, especially the child’s, but it is a problem that can be solved.

So what to do about all of this? Is it too late if your child has been constipated for a long time? Tackling poo problems in kids is daunting for both parents/guardians alike. The first step is educating yourself, your doctor, and your child. My motto for the kiddos that I treat is, “Accidents are not your fault, but it is your problem to solve.” Letting children know what is happening in their body can help them further internalize this message and become more invested in the process to remedy their symptoms.

Next you have to tackle the poo situation inside of your child’s tummy, This is where a two pronged approach is key. Both physical therapy and your doctor will get you on the right track. Your doctor will screen your child for that 5% of constipation cases that are caused by organic causes like Hirshprung’s disease, thyroid issues, and notably cow’s milk allergies and gluten intolerance/ celiac disease. It is important to be screened for these allergies and food intolerance as they represent a large portion of organic constipation cases. Once organic causes are ruled out, your doctor will start medication to help clean out the bowels. Miralax (Polyethylene glycol), is a mainstay of pediatric constipation treatment and is generally best tolerated. Miralax may be first given in large amounts to clean out the bowel, and then followed with smaller maintenance and then slowly tapered off as the rectum reduces from it’s stretched out size. It is important to remember that when starting miralax, especially at “clean out”, doses will likely increase episodes of incontinence at first, so prepare both yourself and your child. Make sure to consult your doctor before attempting any sort of clean out on your own.

Next up is physical therapy. Our main goal is to keep poo moving and avoid buildups so your child’s body can heal. We will teach you ways to massage the colon through the belly to keep poo exiting and to reduce back ups and the need for laxatives. We also work to teach your child to sit on the toilet in a way that will help the poo as easily and painlessly as possible. More often than not, kiddos with constipation have pretty weak cores that make defecating difficult. As pediatric physical therapists, I humbly assert that we are the masters at dreaming up fun ways to gain a little core strength in session and at home to help make bathroom trips easier.

What Beyond Basics does that is truly unique from non pelvic floor physical therapists, is we train the muscles of the pelvic floor (the muscles that control both the the anal and urethral opening to better open and close). Kiddos with chronic constipation tend to have pelvic floors that are tight and uncoordinated. Paradoxical contraction occurs when a child tries to open their anal canal, and they truly believe they are doing so, however they are I n fact clamping it shut. We can treat this problem at Beyond Basics.

If your child would benefit from physical therapy, or an evaluation, to make pooping a bit easier, give us a call. Stay tuned for our next blog, where we will go over some practical at home tips for improving both you and your child’s pooping situation!

 

Sources

Afzal N, Tighe M, Thomson M. Constipation in Children. Ital J Pediatr. 2011; 37

 

Poddar U. Approach to constipation in children. Indian Pediatri. 2016;53(4) 319-27

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions: Weight Loss

Fitness and health

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

It’s that time of year again. We are all nobly setting out on our self improvement journeys. Resolutions are often deeply personal goals we set for ourselves and can involve spiritual, physical, and emotional aspects. Overwhelmingly, one of the most common goals people have is weight loss. The desire to lose weight often goes beyond aesthetic. People can be motivated to reduce pain in their joints, improve heart health, and to have more energy. As physical therapists we see the harms of the burden of carrying around extra weight on aching joints as well as the fallout from initiating a program with a little too much vim and vigor.

Goal Setting

Goal setting is something almost every article on New Year’s resolutions addresses, for good reason. Goal setting properly is imperative to success. We can think of goal setting in two ways. Sometimes we think of goal setting like a wishlist, “it would be great if I achieved x”. These kind of goals are great for getting you to look at the final picture, but provide no direction on how to get to your end result. Writing down a goal to lose 10 pounds is all well and good, but without a solid plan, you are left without any real steps to put in motion.

In goal setting I suggest you borrow some tools from us physical therapists. When we assess patients we develop short and long term goals to get them to their ultimate fitness and health goals. The short term goals we make, allow us to zero in on small and discrete changes we can make towards the ultimate goal.

Think about what habits you currently are doing that are holding you back from weight loss. Are you having an extra glass of wine at night you could cut out, are you not getting enough sleep, so working out seems impossible? Break things up into small behavioral changes to concentrate on. Keep in mind goals can also be positive, what things are you currently doing that are helping you on your path that you would like to continue doing. It’s important to recognize where you are being an absolute rockstar already and use that positive energy towards things that might be harder to change.

Track your goals and think about how often you want to make sure you are doing them. Personally, I find it helpful to track my goals to see if I am generally sticking to them. There are apps out there, that you can install on your phone that will help track your success in sticking to your goals. I use a free app called “Productive”.  It allows me to make a recurring checklist for my goals. You can use the app to schedule out what time of day you would like to do your goals, how many days a week you’ll do them, and provides stats on how regularly you are achieving them.

Finally, it is important to be realistic with your goals. Goals that are too easy or too hard are less likely to get you where you want to be. Allow yourself some flexibility, to keep your journey less of a burden. Over time, check in with your goals you may find you have outgrown them or they are unrealistic. It is perfectly okay to tailor as you go.

 

Eating

We all know diet plays a major key in weight loss. A friend to the clinic, Nutritionist, Jessica Drummond will often say, “ You cannot exercise your way out of a bad diet”. Poor diets can stymie any exercise plan.

Dietary needs vary widely from individual to individual, but overall it’s best to avoid highly processed foods. These foods tend to be chalk a block with salt and easily digestible sugars that can spike appetite. No good.

Be wary of fad diets and health crazes. Gluten free foods are all the rage right now. I, myself am gluten free for health reasons, but if you do not have celiac disease or non celiac gluten sensitivity, reaching for the gluten free pizza or cookie is not the wisest choice as a weight loss strategy. In addition to usually being more expensive, gluten free options, like cookies, bread, and pizza often are higher in calories than their “glutenful” counterparts. It only took a quick stroll over to my refrigerator to prove this point. I compared a slice of traditional bread next to a gluten free slice. As you can see in the photo below, the traditional bread is larger than the gluten free bread. Not only do you get more food for serving with the traditional bread, the traditional bread has 20 fewer calories per serving than the gluten free bread. This goes to show that regardless of your dietary needs, consuming foods that are not processed like sweet potatoes, quinoa, and rice, over processed food like bread, is a good way to avoid hidden calories.

It is important that you eat enough to sustain your metabolism, your energy, and your mood, and furthermore, to allow your diet to be a sustainable change you can carry out long term to ensure success. There are apps on your phone that can help you track your calorie input, how many calories you have burned off, and what the composition of your macronutrients are. Macronutrients are protein, carbs, and fats. A diet higher in protein is generally used to help build muscles, which can in turn, burn more fat. These apps, like Myfitnesspal and Lose It! can give you target calorie intake for your desired weekly weight loss. It is important to set your target with some element of moderation so it is easier to stick to. Caloric restrictions that are too extreme can backfire by tanking your metabolism, energy, and triggering food binges.

Exercise

Exercise is so important. In addition to helping you progress towards your weight loss goal, exercise has so many health benefits that will pay dividends well into the future. From stress reduction, cardiovascular health, bone health and more, exercise is an essential element of self care even for those who do not wish to lose weight.The

American Heart Association recommends adults exercise at a moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes five times a week or vigorous activity for 25 minutes 3 days a week. In addition to moderate to high intensity  strengthening activity at least 2 days a week.

Finding the right exercise can be daunting. This is where having a physical therapist can be a tremendous advantage. Personally, I don’t believe in “the one best exercise”. Everybody is different and every body is different. Physical therapists are the movement specialists of the healthcare world. We can help you find good workouts for where your body is now, as well as strengthen your body so you can do the workout or event of your dreams while avoiding injury. Take a look at the series we wrote chronicling how physical therapy prepared my body for the rigors of the New York City Marathon and allowed me to complete it in record time, to see a great example of what physical therapy can do for you. I have included our blogs on physical therapy and exercise at the bottom of this article.

Once you have an idea of where to start and where you want to go, then slowly get started on trying out different routines. I once heard a quote from an exercise physiologist who said, “the best exercise is one you actually do”. So remember when starting your exercise program, it is okay to not like a certain exercise routine and move on. You might abhor the treadmill, but find tremendous joy in a Zumba class. Finding  a workout that brings you joy, and at the very least, does not bring you dread is imperative. It’s kind of like dating, keep trying different routines until you find what works for you.

Once you find your dream routine, remember moderation. Allow yourself at least a day of recovery if you are a seasoned exercise veteran, and more if you are an exercise newbie. Rest not only prevents injury, but it gives the body time to get to the job of laying down more muscle fibers and making you stronger.

Injury can happen with new exercise routines and really, nothing is more frustrating than being super gung ho about a new program only to be sidelined with an injury. Again this is where having a good PT on your side really helps. Seeing us before starting exercise can help us spot both literal and figurative achilles heels in your posture, strength, and flexibility and will allow us to address these issues before they become mega impairments later on. We can help you decide when it is time to progress and how to do so safely. Additionally we can help you recover from an injury faster and prevent injury recurrence if you see us when you do have an injury.

 

Failure and Success

Repeat after me, “ I am a person, not a machine”. You will fail at certain elements of your plan. Notice I used “will” and not “may”. When you do overindulge, miss a workout, or whatever else. Remember it is a process and small failures do not indicate that you will fail in your ultimate goal of greater health. Nor is failure in any way an indicator of your worth as a human being, neither is the number on the scale, by the way. Progress will be slow, but you will likely get there if you are consistent. Failure is a good time to re-evaluate your goals. Maybe five workouts a week is completely unrealistic and maybe sticking with three is a much better balance. Regardless of what obstacles you face in your journey, remember to be kind to yourself, you are doing the best you can. Find what changes you can stick with and go from there. It can take a lot to change up your whole routine, but keep working at it and you will find success.

Check us out at BBPT!

Although we do specialize in orthopedic and pelvic floor physical therapy at Beyond Basics, we do so much more than that. All of our physical therapists are trained in orthopedic and sports rehab, and many of our therapists have earned prestigious orthopedic certifications like the OCS and CFMT. We can help you to figure out where to start, how to progress your exercises appropriately, and how to keep your body healthy so you can continue to achieve all of your goals.

 

Additional Blogs Exercise and Fitness:

Time to PUMP SOME IRON! September is Healthy Aging Month

Exercising While Pregnant

Preparing for the Marathon with Physical Therapy at Beyond Basics!

Beyond Basics’ Marathon Prep Program: The Evaluation

Marathon Prep with Beyond Basics: Weeks 1-3

Marathon Update: Sickness When to Run and When to Take a Break

Marathon Training Update

Marathon Update: Shaving Time off my Race with Physical Therapy and Doing Good in the Name of Multiple Sclerosis Research

 

Sources

American Heart Association. American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults. Updated Dec 14, 2017