Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Physical Therapy

IBSFiona McMahon, DPT

Hello everyone! April was Irritable Bowel Syndrome(IBS) Awareness Month. Although, we are a bit late, we wanted to take some time to talk about IBS and what can be done to help with its symptoms. IBS can present in different ways. People with IBS may experience diarrhea or constipation, or both. At Beyond Basics, we work with issues associated with IBS, from ensuring that your digestive organs move well in order to function properly, to toilet posture, to training the pelvic floor to have the coordination to help you toilet comfortably.

Tips for living with irritable bowel and other digestive symptoms

Posture

Over the years we have used our blog to discuss many different tips, tricks, and techniques you can use at home to make the process of having a bowel movement just a bit easier. The first thing you can do is super simple: sit on the toilet with good posture. There are heaps of ways to sit on the toilet and believe it or not, there is an optimal way to sit and poop. The reason why the way we sit is so important is the anal rectal angle. The anal rectal angle refers to the angle of your rectum. When we stand and sit our angle is more bent or acute, which makes it harder for poop to drop out of out of our rectums (yay!), which increases our chances of continence. But when we are trying to poop, we want our anal rectal angle to straighten out so it is easier to poop and we don’t have to strain. The position that best allows us to do that is squatting, the way one would over an eastern style toilet. Most of us have western style commodes that don’t allow for a nice anal rectal angle opening squat. So we have to get creative. By placing a stool or the now ubiquitous squatty potty under your feet you can simulate a squat and allow for easier passage of stool. For more on posture, check out Sara Paplanus’s blog on posture and bowel movements.

Diet

veggies

Diet is a very important thing to consider when trying to optimize your bowel movements. The first thing we usually consider is fiber. There are two types of fiber. Soluable and insoluable. Soluble dissolve in water and allows the stool to absorb water and adds mass and heft ( in a good way) to your feces. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and can help push the poo out. The fact is we need to balance both types and most of us aren’t getting enough. In addition, some people need more of one type and some need more of the other or else you can end up with increased gas and bloating. Read how you can increase your fiber intake here. If you are having difficulty balancing the two or are not sure which to add, it is best to seek advice from an expert nutritionist in abdomino-pelvic pain and IBS.

Water Intake

The colon, the last stop for poop before it enters your rectum is the place where water is absorbed from the stool. In cases where you are too dehydrated, your body will recycle water anywhere it can, including your stool. If too much water is taken from your stool, it can be dry and hard to push out. We suggest drinking about one half your body weight in ounces of water daily and even slightly more if you are constipated, sweat a lot or suffer from IBS. For example, if you weigh 200 lbs, drink 100 ounces of water to make sure to ease your bowel movements.water-life-crop

Physical Therapy

Pelvic floor physical therapy can help a lot with issues with IBS. In last year’s IBS awareness blog, we discussed the benefits of pelvic floor PT

“Dysfunction in organs can also cause dysfunction in the skeletal muscles that are close by. This is called the visceral-somatic reflex. One of the most common examples is when someone feels left arm pain when they are having a heart attack. The dysfunction in the heart causes pain and spasm in nearby muscles. The same thing can happen when the gut is irritated in conditions like IBS. Typically, people with IBS will feel pain and spasm in the muscles of their abdomen and pelvic floor as a result of repeated irritation in their gut. To add insult to injury, spasm in the pelvic floor, (specifically the levator ani and sphincter muscles) can adversely affect the passage of stool out of the body and make symptoms even worse.

Pelvic floor physical therapy can help symptoms caused by the visceral somatic reflex greatly. At Beyond Basics we have an excellent crew of pelvic floor physical therapists with expertise in visceral mobilization and pelvic floor dysfunction. Our physical therapists can work to eliminate painful spasms, mobilize restrictions, retrain the muscles and teach self-management techniques to keep symptoms at bay, or to eliminate some of the symptoms in the future.”

 

IBS is an important condition that affects many different people. Although there currently is no cure for IBS, there is a lot you can do to make living with this condition more manageable. If part, or all, of the symptoms are from musculoskeletal dysfunctions of the pelvic floor and abdomen, than there IS a cure and we are here to help! If you are suffering, please make an appointment with us today.

Sources

R Saeed. Impact of Ethnic habits on defecographic measurements. Arch Iranian Med 2002; 5(2) 115-16

BPPT Health Tip: Best Positioning Tips for Optimal Bowel Movements

By Sarah Paplanus, DPT, PT

Are you among the 4 million Americans who suffer from constipation? Or the 1 in 5 American adults with Irritable Bowel Syndrome? Do you occasionally experience the pain and itchy feeling associated with hemorrhoids? If so, the Squatty Potty or similar stool may be the perfect addition to your bathroom! Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with any of these conditions, it is important to note that straining or holding your breath to complete a bowel movement is never normal and is usually a sign of dysfunction. Colorectal medical conditions can vary in their cause, in their presentation and in their severity, but your pelvic floor muscles will always be affected.

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Anatomy!

 

Your colon carries waste out of your body, and where the colon meets your rectum is called your anorectal angle. This anorectal angle is an important factor in continence.

Your pelvic floor muscles work together to support the rectum, change the anorectal angle and control opening/closing. One of your pelvic floor muscles (the puborectalis) forms a sling around your rectum and works to maintain the anorectal angle. If that muscle is tight, it can essentially “choke” your rectum and contribute to straining.

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What does squatting do?

Squatting straightens the anorectal angle and helps to relax the puborectalis muscle, which helps to facilitate emptying. It also decreases the amount of pressure in the abdomen, which has been shown to decrease the time and effort needed for defecation. This all helps to reduce excessive pressure and strain on your pelvic floor muscles. In cultures where squatting is still prevalent for defecation, such as parts of Asia and Africa, it has been found that bowel movements tend to be more complete and that there is a decreased incidence of colorectal dysfunctions such as hemorrhoids, constipation and hernias.

Why is straining bad?

A principle of elementary mechanics states that “any system exposed to excessive pressures ultimately sustains injury”.These injuries can be in the form of a hemorrhoid, a hernia, a muscle strain or a chronic pelvic floor dysfunction. Straining also increases your risk of the Valsalva maneuver, which is exhaling against a closed airway. This causes a sudden increase in intra-abdominal pressure which can cause abrupt changes in blood pressure.

Toilet Posture

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Using a squatty potty, stool, or even two yoga blocks can help you assume a “squat” position. Lean forward and rest your elbows on your knees. Take deep breathes in, using your diaphragm. Place your hands on your belly and feel your breathe fill up your abdomen. Keep your mouth open and jaw relaxed!

Other Strategies to Improve Bowel Health

  • Cardiovascular exercise
  • Proper nutrition (see our previous post on fiber!)
  • Make sure you are drinking enough water
  • Relaxation training, diaphragmatic breathing

 

What to do if you are still suffering?

If the above tips are not helping defecate regularly and comfortably, you may be suffering from pelvic floor dysfunction. Pelvic floor dysfunction can occur when the muscles of the pelvic floor become too tight, weak, or both to do their job properly. Physical Therapy can help! Visit us at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy to help better your BM’s.

Squatty Potty

By Riva Preil

Ever wonder how to pass bowel movements with greater ease?  Believe it or not, the optimal position for passing a bowel movement is …SQUATTING!  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not recommending that we ditch standard toilets for good old fashioned floor holes, however I am suggesting that we become more mindful of our bodies and of our biomechanical alignment while toileting. An important factor in defecation is the anorectal angle, the angle formed by the junction of the anus and the rectum, which at rest is approximately 90 degrees. The puborectalis muscle (part of the levator ani pelvic floor muscles) wraps around the junction like a sling. Contraction or tightening of the puborectalis decreases the anorectal angle or makes it more acute, for our geometry-oriented readers.  (For those who are not, please refer to the Squatty Potty video link here which provides an amazing visualization). On the other hand, relaxation of the puborectalis muscle increases the anorectal angle which allows for descent of stool from the rectum towards the anus. Therefore, it is important to be able to relax or release the pelvic floor muscles in order to allow for strain-free, pain-free passage of bowel movement.  Squatting facilitates pelvic floor muscle relaxation and straightening of the large intestine.  Therefore, it is recommended to attempt passing bowel movements with both feet atop a stool, thereby mimicking the squatting position.  The Squatty Potty is a wonderful tool that was invented with this in mind.  The Squatty Potty is a user friendly stool that can be inconspicuously stored at the base of one’s toilet.  However you choose to simulate squatting while toileting, best of luck and may you have a moving experience!