According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, approximately 60 to 70 million Americans suffer from digestive diseases. Digestive problems can range from common complaints like indigestion and flatulence (gas) to life-threatening diseases such as colorectal cancer. If you have recurring digestive problems, including mild stomachaches or severe abdominal pain, a persistent change in your bowel habits, blood in your stool, weight loss, or ongoing bouts of heartburn, talk to your doctor about your symptoms and what remedies might be right for you.

For some digestive problems, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, and chronic constipation, massage therapy might be helpful in reducing symptoms. But before considering massage therapy for any digestive problem you may be having, be sure to check with your healthcare provider first.

Massage therapy may be helpful in relieving stress, which can disrupt the digestive process and aggravate IBS symptoms, and help alleviate the pain and discomfort of digestive disorders. However, massage therapy shouldn't be used during active flare-ups of IBS, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn's disease because it can worsen symptoms.

Massage is a hands-on therapy that uses touch to manipulate the muscles and other soft tissues in the body. To treat digestive problems, a massage therapist gently applies pressure to the abdomen to feel the inner structures of the colon and small intestine. In some instances, therapeutic massage may be able to stimulate areas of the digestive tract that are congested, reducing symptoms such as cramping, bloating, gas and constipation.

Certain yoga techniques may also be helpful in alleviating some symptoms of digestive problems. For example, yoga poses that twist the upper or lower body to one side may relieve gas and constipation. And practicing yoga breathing exercises, such as belly breathing in which you expand your stomach like a balloon, gently filling up with air as you inhale and gently contracting your stomach to exhale, helps release stress that may contribute to bouts of diarrhea or IBS symptoms.

Types of Massage Therapy

  • Swedish-This type of massage uses long strokes and gentle kneading movements to release muscle tension.
  • Shiatsu-A form of Japanese massage in which the therapist applies rhythmic pressure to acupressure points to adjust the flow of energy, known as Chi or Ki, throughout the body.
  • Deep tissue-In this type of massage, pressure is applied to the deeper muscles and connective tissues to release adhesions, or "knots."