Nov 2014 22

Massage and IBS

By: Dave Wheeler

Up to 1 in 5 people in the UK are affected by Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) at some point in their lives.

IBS is a chronic increased sensitivity of the gut which can cause diarrhoea, constipation and stomach cramps. If you've got it, you certainly know about it as the symptoms are often worse after eating.


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A lot of people with IBS get it so bad that they keep a mental map of coffee shops, supermarkets and department stores with toilets in case they get caught short.


The causes of IBS

The causes of IBS aren't known. When the gut of someone with IBS is examined microscopically, it looks exactly the same.

Whilst the causes aren't unknown, the triggers for IBS are well understood:

  • stress
  • fatty foods
  • processed foods (like crisps or biscuits)
  • drinks that contain caffeine (like tea, coffee, and cola)
  • wheat (which includes pasta and bread)

The triggers are not the same for everybody, and what will set off an attack of irritable bowel syndrome in one person will be completely harmless to someone else.


Treatment for IBS

Since nobody knows what causes IBS, there's no standard treatment, so it's a case of managing your symptoms.

The most obvious thing to do is to find out what foods trigger the symptoms. You may need to cut one food type out at a time to eliminate the triggers, but the chances are there will be more than one!

The other thing that you can do is to look at your stress levels.

Stress is one of the most common shared underlying triggers amongst IBS sufferers. It's not always possible to reorganise our lives to get rid of stress, so if you can't do that there are some other strategies:

  1. Try using some relaxation tapes at home (not in the car!)
  2. Think about one of the talking therapies like hypnotherapy of counselling
  3. Get a regular massage

It really doesn't matter whether the massage you go for is the spa-style Swedish massage or the Deep Tissue massage that I offer. They're equally effective at relieving stress.

If you're in an acute phase of your IBS with diarrhoea as your primary symptom, then you won't want your massage therapist to massage your stomach. But if you're suffering from constipation, or not currently in an acute phase, then gentle clockwise stroking of the abdomen will do you the world of good (and, by the way, the clockwise is really important as that's the direction of movement through the gastrointestinal tractt). It's a bit like your mum or dad rubbing your tummy when you had stomach ache when you were young.

As ever, if you think I can help, do give me a call.