Bowel problems are personal and embarrassing; often something you want to sort out on your own. Here we’re going to look at a couple of techniques that may help with constipation or diarrhoea relief, and another that you may want to discuss with your doctor.
It is always recommended that you talk to your healthcare professional about your bowel problems, especially if you have tried other methods of trying to manage them. These would include dietary control and using short term laxatives or softeners. Advice given here is not meant to replace a confidential one-to-one consultation with your doctor or nurse.
What is bowel training?
Normally, bowel movements happen at regular intervals – perhaps first thing in the morning or after a meal – and you don’t need to think about it because the urge just happens.
One method of bowel training is about creating that schedule for the bowel and prompting it into bowel movements, even if you don’t feel like you need to go.
There are also 2 other bowel training methods:
- Kegel exercises that improve the strength of the anal sphincter and pelvic floor muscles.
- Biofeedback helps the user to learn how to recognize and control bodily functions.
Bowel training for natural constipation relief.
You can train your bowel to get moving on a more regular basis by practising these steps:
- The bowel is most active after a meal, so 15-20 minutes after a meal, sit on the toilet whether you feel the need to go or not.
- Dr Francisco Marrero is a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. He recommends sitting with your feet on a stool, rather than flat on the floor – see the picture – which can help the bowel work better.
- Don’t strain or push too hard. Often when people do this it actually closes the anal sphincter, making it harder to go. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being pushing very hard, aim for about 5.
- If this doesn’t work then leave the bathroom and try again later.
- This training can take 2-3 weeks to establish a pattern, so stick at it.
Another method of bowel training is to trigger the bowel. Do this by:
- Using a lubricant such as KY Jelly on the end of your finger and put it into the anus.
- Use small circling motions to encourage the sphincter muscle to relax. This can take a few minutes.
- Sit on the toilet, get as much privacy as you can and perhaps take a book or newspaper to distract you.
- You may need to repeat the procedure after about 20 minutes if it hasn’t worked the first time.
- You can do this procedure every day until you have a pattern of having a bowel movement each day. Establish a time that you can do this, so that it fits with your daily routine.
- Disposable gloves and lubricating gel are sold at pharmacies.
Bowel training for natural diarrhoea relief.
There are a lot of causes of diarrhoea which should be investigated by your doctor. These can include infection, medication side effects, overflow of faecal matter from constipation, and nerve damage.
Weakness of the anal sphincter muscle and pelvic floor are more common than you might think.
This muscle weakness often comes from being very overweight (even if you then lose weight) or after pregnancy. Sometimes it happens when there is no obvious cause.
Strengthen the pelvic floor by practising Kegel exercises.
The pelvic floor muscles are like a hammock or sling, that runs from the pubic bone at the front to the tail bone at the bottom of the spine. The vagina, urethra (exit pipe for urine) and rectum pass down through this muscle – see the picture.
By making these muscles stronger you can improve:
- Urinary continence
- Sexual sensation in women
- Bowel continence.
These exercises are easy to learn and can be practised anywhere as no one will know you’re doing them. The secret to making them work is to persist and practise.
- Sit with the legs apart and close the front and back passages as if ‘zipping’ them up inside.
- Hold for the count of 4 and then relax slowly.
- Repeat 4 times each hour.
- Consider doing these after passing urine.
You can increase the exercises after 3 months by
- When going to the pass water (when there is not a strong urge to go) pass the first part of the stream, then release the stream.
- You can repeat this before the stream is finished when the muscles become stronger.
Repeat steps 1 and 2 above – close the front passage and count to 4 then release.
Using biofeedback to strengthen the anal sphincter is also an effective way of training the bowel.
Biofeedback is scientific way of helping a patient become aware of body functions that are often unconscious, such as some muscle functions. It gives a visual or sound feedback when the muscle is used.
When using biofeedback for bowel training, a rectal plug can monitor the strength of the rectal/anal sphincter contractions. It is connected to a computer screen that shows how hard the patient squeezes the plug, but displaying this information on a graph.
The patient is taught how to squeeze the rectal muscle around the plug and the computer shows and guides you to the correct technique.
It takes only about 3 sessions to show an improvement in symptoms, which allows a person to keep practising alone.
Remember if you’ve ever had to train an animal, a child or yourself to do something, the secret is to keep trying and keep repeating the exercises! The same is true with bowel training and re-training.
For more information on constipation and bowel retraining, look at this article from Everyday Health.
And there’s more on bowel retraining from Medline Plus here.
If you’re embarrassed about talking to your doctor then you may find some help in this article.