Managing a patient's constipation with physical therapy

Phys Ther. 2006 Nov;86(11):1511-9. doi: 10.2522/ptj.20050347.


Background and purpose: Constipation is a prevalent condition in the United States, with typical treatment consisting of diet modification, stool softeners, and laxatives. These interventions, however, are not always effective. The purpose of this case report is to describe the use of abdominal massage in physical therapist management for a patient with constipation.

Case description: An 85-year-old woman with constipation was referred for physical therapy following unsuccessful treatment with stool softeners. The patient was instructed in bowel management as well as a daily, 10-minute home abdominal massage program.

Outcomes: Upon re-examination, the patient reported a return of normal bowel frequency and function without the need to strain or use digital evacuation.

Discussion: Physical therapy incorporating abdominal massage appeared to be helpful in resolving this patient's constipation. Unlike medical management of constipation, no known side effects have been identified with abdominal massage.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cathartics / administration & dosage
  • Cathartics / therapeutic use
  • Constipation / complications
  • Constipation / diagnosis
  • Constipation / diet therapy
  • Constipation / drug therapy
  • Constipation / physiopathology
  • Constipation / therapy*
  • Defecation
  • Disease Progression
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Massage / methods*
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Pelvic Floor
  • Physical Examination
  • Quality of Life
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Urinary Incontinence, Stress / complications
  • Urinary Incontinence, Stress / therapy


  • Cathartics