Constipation is a common issue. Our Osteopath Bob De Maio and Naturopath Renae Trivic look at the bigger picture, and provide some information and advice on how to optimise your digestive wellness.
The Naturopath’s Perspective
Individuals suffering from chronic constipation may have a range of symptoms, from large bowel pain to rectal discomfort, abdominal fullness to nausea, a poor appetite to feeling generally unwell.
Colon health is often the focus for improving general digestive health and issues such as constipation. The colon’s role within the body is effectively a 1.5 metre long holding tank for waste matter, which also feeds our beneficial colonic bacteria and regulates water.
The optimal transit time between food entering the mouth and leaving the body is 12 to 14 hours; which equates to one to three bowel movements per day. This correct transit time means that waste matter isn’t sitting in our colons for too long, preventing the waste from disrupting proper digestive function and from allowing toxins to be reabsorbed into circulation.
Constipation can often be corrected with simple dietary changes, ensuring an adequate water intake and increasing soluble and insoluble fibres (such as fresh fruit, raw green leafy vegetables, brown rice, oats, beans and seeds).
The Osteopath’s Perspective: Constipation & Back Pain
Sometimes your osteopath will quiz you on your digestive function and bowel movements. This is because constipation, and other digestive issues, can have a significant effect on lower back and pelvic pain.
From a mechanical perspective, straining to pass a stool (which is common when constipated) will increase pressure within the abdominal cavity. As the lumbar spine makes up the rear wall of this cavity, straining results in increased pressure on the spinal joints, lumbar discs, and lower back soft tissue. Constipation and difficulty in passing a stool can therefore actually delay the healing of lower back pain.
From a neurological viewpoint, a viscero-somatic reflex provides a connection between constipation and back pain. In short, this describes something on the inside (organ/s) causing something on the outside (muscles, joints, etc.) to become painful. Organs and skeletal muscles share nerves, which means that the brain can, at times, interpret pain or dysfunction as coming from the muscle rather than the organ. An example of this is in patients with heart disease. An increase in nerve activity within an organ, or organs, may also increase nerve activity in the muscle, or muscles, that share these nerves.
A somato-visceral reflex is the opposite; where an increase in nerve activity due to a muscle or joint condition can then alter the nerve activity to the organ that shares these nerves. This often occurs around the thoracolumbar region of the spine, which is where the nerves responsible for stimulating bowel activity are located. When these nerves are affected, they act as an ‘off-switch’ to bowel movement.
While many pain medications are very effective in helping to manage back pain, they may affect bowel function, often leading to a viscous cycle of constipation and back pain affecting one another. Osteopathic treatment of back pain, and naturopathic treatment of pain through natural medication, will often help to break this cycle.
Osteopathic treatment for constipation involves treatment of the muscles and joints related to the organ and its nerve activity, as well as direct massaging of the organs (which are made up of muscle) to help release any tension, and to stimulate normal and optimal activity.
If you feel that you are suffering from digestive disorder or lower back pain, discuss it with your osteopath or naturopath at your next visit to the clinic. Many of the body’s systems are linked, and treating you with a holistic and integrated approach is the goal of the practitioners here at West Perth Osteopathy.