For most people, what happens in the bathroom stays in the bathroom. Very few of us have any desire to talk about something as private and sensitive as constipation, for instance. Sometimes, though, not discussing problems that occur in the bathroom can cause problems that affect life outside the bathroom. Constipation affects approximately 25 percent of Americans, and affects more women than men. It is most prevalent in people 65 years old and older, and accounts for an average 2.5 million doctor visits each year. Americans also spend more than $725 million each year on over-the-counter laxatives. But what most don’t realize is that constipation is a symptom, not a disease. It indicates something in your body isn’t working the way it should, and by not talking about it, you could be allowing your embarrassment to keep you from getting treatment for a potentially harmful complication.
“Many people incorrectly believe that they need to have a bowel movement each day. Typically, someone who is experiencing constipation may have a bowel movement fewer than three times per week,” said Blount Memorial Total Rehabilitation physical therapist and certified pelvic rehabilitation practitioner Candace Jarrett. “Constipation doesn’t target any specific age group, and is not a natural part of aging. It affects people young and old. Most people will self-treat constipation with things like fiber, laxatives, enemas or supplements. Others may turn to increased activity, which can help, but doesn’t decrease occurrences of constipation on its own,” she explained. “Still, what most people don’t realize is that chronic constipation and chronic laxative abuse can affect their quality of life, as well as increase their overall risk for developing colon cancer. With counseling on simple lifestyle changes, people may actually be able to change their habits and improve their bowel regularity,” she added.
Jarrett says physical therapy actually can help someone dealing with chronic constipation. “Due to underlying conditions, a thorough medical history and physical examination are needed to diagnose constipation. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, constipation is classified into three groups: normal transit constipation, also known as functional constipation; slow transit constipation, which is classified by a prolonged delay in the passage of waste through the colon; and defactory disorders. Fortunately, physical therapy can help with all three. Therapy for defactory disorders focuses on retraining the pelvic floor muscle function during evacuation. Many patients have been able to restore normal bowel function through the use of biofeedback, or electronic monitoring. Therapy can help train patients to relax certain muscles involved in straining, as well as coordinate their abdominal contractions to help move things along. Therapists also can help patients focus on learning the correct posture for sitting on the toilet, proper defecation dynamics and abdominal massage. Many therapists also may have patients create a diary of sorts to record things such as consistency, frequency and any difficulties,” she explained. “People who seek physical therapy treatments for constipation report more-frequent stools, decreased laxative use and a lower need for external assistance,” she added.
For more information about the physical therapy treatments for constipation, contact Blount Memorial Total Rehabilitation at 865-980-5044.