Background: Associated with decreases in quality of life, constipation is a relatively common problem. Abdominal massage appears to increase bowel function, but unlike laxatives with no negative side effects. Because earlier studies have methodological flaws and cannot provide recommendations, more research is needed.
Objective: This study investigates the effects of abdominal massage on gastrointestinal functions and laxative intake in people who have constipation.
Design: Randomized controlled trial.
Participants and method: A sample of 60 people with constipation was included and randomized in two groups. The intervention group received abdominal massage in addition to an earlier prescribed laxative and the control group received only laxatives according to earlier prescriptions. Gastrointestinal function was assessed with Gastrointestinal Symptoms Rating Scale (GSRS) on three occasions; at baseline, week 4 and week 8. The statistical methods included linear regression, Wilcoxon sign rank test, and Mann-Whitney U-test.
Result: Abdominal massage significantly decreased severity of gastrointestinal symptoms assessed with GSRS according to total score (p=.003), constipation syndrome (p=.013), and abdominal pain syndrome (p=.019). The intervention group also had significant increase of bowel movements compared to the control group (p=.016). There was no significant difference in the change of the amount of laxative intake after 8 weeks.
Conclusions: Abdominal massage decreased severity of gastrointestinal symptoms, especially constipation and abdominal pain syndrome, and increased bowel movements. The massage did not lead to decrease in laxative intake, a result that indicates that abdominal massage could be a complement to laxatives rather than a substitute.