Intestinal adhesions come in many forms. For some it is Chron’s Disease with the lesions and adhesions inside the intestines. For some it is small bowel obstructions caused by adhesions around the intestines (e.g. the intestines get stuck to the abdominal wall) that bind them and keep them from passing their contents on through. For some, the intestines have gotten stuck to themselves, inside or out, in one of their many twists and turns. There are many ways for these adhesions and their associated pain to show up.
If you have Chron’s (or a similar condition), then there are going to be times when your ability to treat belly adhesions with manual therapy is limited. If you are in a flare, obviously you should avoid aggravating your intestines by pressing on them, however if you are not flared, you could potentially do some very useful work with manual therapy/massage. You should talk to your doctor about when this is a good idea.
If Chron’s or other highly inflammatory diseases are not present in the intestines, you are likely to be less limited in how and when you can treat yourself. It is possible to relieve (most of the time permanently) adhesions that are involved with the intestines with manual therapy/massage.
The first step is simply to get a sense of what is happening in your belly. Lay on your back or your side and take several easy and medium-deep breaths in order to let yourself relax. When your belly is as relaxed as you can let it be, place your hand on your belly. If doing this much causes you to tense up again, just leave your hand there and take a few more breaths until your belly has relaxed once again.
When you are ready, use the tips of your fingers to feel around for spots in your belly that are “hard”. Those “hard” or “slow” spots in the tissue are good indicators for where the adhesions might be lurking. Gently press into or rub across those spots. Does touching here make you tense up again? (If so, take a few more breaths and try to relax again.) Does touching these spots cause pain or discomfort in your belly? (You may be amazed to find that touching a “hard” spot can trigger pain, discomfort, or simply sensation somewhere else in your belly that you weren’t aware of.)
There are so many connections running throughout the belly that it is worthwhile to do this exercise through the entire belly, not just where you feel the pain day-to-day. You may be surprised by trigger spots that send pain to places you weren’t aware were connected.
If you are just beginning with this work/exploration, take your time and maybe even write down some of what you are finding. If you feel ready for more information or more techniques to use, you can check out the adhesion self-care videos on my website. I also encourage you to check out the other posts here on my blog about adhesions.
Above all remember to stay hydrated, stay moving, and be gentle with yourself! Also, if you have questions, feel free to post in the comments . . .
- Isabel Spradlin is a Registered Nurse (RN), Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT), and abdominal adhesion specialist in Portland, OR. She specializes in educating people about manual treatment (massage) for abdominal pain and dysfunction, especially when it is adhesion related. Please see the "Programs" page to see her offerings.