Man on the toilet
November 24, 2014

A ‘Hands-On’ Approach For Treating Constipation

Instead of reaching for a laxative the next time you’re feeling constipated, you might want to give perineal self-acupressure a try, experts from the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine reported in research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

What is perineal self-acupressure? According to the UCLA researchers, it is a simple technique in which a person applies external pressure to the area between the anus and the genitals known as the perineum. While it might sound strange to many, the authors said that 72 percent of study participants said the technique helped them have bowel movement.

Nearly one-in-five North Americans suffer from constipation, the researchers said, and the condition is more common in women, non-whites, people older than 60, those who are not physically active, and the poor. It is also a costly ailment, with an estimated $4.25 billion in hospital fees linked to the treatment of constipation in 2010 alone, and it can also lead to depression, lower quality of life and a decrease in work productivity, they added.

Study participants loved the technique

Principal investigator Dr. Ryan Abbott, a visiting assistant professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine and health services research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and his colleagues recruited a total of 100 patients (nine of whom dropped out during the study).

Each of the participants was at least 18 years old, and all met the clinical criteria for functional constipation. Those criteria included having no more than three defecations per week and having the following symptoms for at least 25 percent of their bowel movements: straining during defecation, having hard to lumpy stools, experiencing a sensation of incomplete evacuation, experience a sense of obstruction or blockage, or having to use manual maneuvers.

The patients were given three to five minutes worth of instruction on the perineal self-acupressure process and were encouraged to perform the exercises on their own for four weeks whenever they felt the urge to defecate. The patients reported using the method an average of three to four times per week, and the technique reportedly helped break up hard stools, relax muscles and stimulate the nerves responsible for bowel movements.

In all, 72 percent of participants said that the technique helped them break up, soften or pass stools, while 54 percent claimed it helped avoid hemorrhoids or lessen the severity of existing hemorrhoids. Eighty-two percent told the researchers that they would continue using the technique, and 72 percent said they would recommend perineal self-acupressure to their family and friends, the university revealed in a statement.

This method could be very helpful before a battle with the porcelain throne. (Credit: Thinkstock)

This method could be very helpful before a battle with the porcelain throne. (Credit: Thinkstock)

“This unique self-administered acupressure treatment for constipation is just one example of how an integrative approach to medicine helps patients and is cost-effective, too,” Dr. Ka-Kit Hui, founder and director of the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine and one of the study authors, told UCLA's Enrique Rivero. “Utilizing both Eastern and Western approaches helps create a new paradigm of medicine that combines the best of both worlds.”

The authors did point out that there were some limitations to their study, including the fact that it was not a blinded trial and that the sample size was relatively small. In addition, they noted that it was unclear if the technique could be used to prevent constipation, or if other, similar techniques would have resulted in comparable results. However, they do believe that their results indicate the usefulness of perineal self-acupressure alongside other types of treatment.

“As a non-invasive, non-pharmacological treatment intervention for constipation, perineal self-acupressure likely carries a lower risk for side effects and complications than commonly used medications such as stool softeners, fiber supplements, stimulants, laxatives and lubricants,” the study authors wrote in their report.

“In addition, perineal self-acupressure may help to control treatment costs because it only requires a brief, initial period of training,” they added. “Furthermore, not all patients respond favorably to existing treatment options, and perineal self-acupressure may represent an effective alternative to conventional treatment options.”

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Image credit: Thinkstock

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