A few days ago I had a long-time client come in for some neck work. Walking home from a neighborhood meeting in the pitch dark, she tripped on a garden hose and fell to her knees. She has a history of her neck being a big problem so as she was falling (and recovering), her primary focus was whether or not she had messed up her neck.
As I was doing the whole-body check through in the beginning of her session, she mentioned that she was really constipated (very unusual for her) and that she wasn’t sure what caused it. Her ND thought it was a remnant of a really bad flu she had recently had in combination with her SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth).
Why does this matter?
This client and I have done a lot of abdominal work together in the past and as I got to her belly, I noticed that it was very tight – more so on the right. This is consistent with a fall like she described – especially where she had no visual markers to help her know how far she was going to fall or what she might hit when she got there – much less what had wrapped itself around her ankle (she didn’t know it was a hose at the time). In addition to the simple physics of the transfer of energy going up from where she landed on her knees directly into her abdomen, her belly had done everything in its power (largely unconscious) to protect her as she went down.
When I asked, she said her constipation started the morning after the fall. Before I asked, it hadn’t occurred to her that her body’s reaction to the fall itself might have actually triggered the constipation.
I explained that while her ND might be right about the cause of her constipation, I was fairly certain that the muscular and fascial lock-down in her belly was what had triggered it. I thought that if we could get her belly to calm and release a bit, her bowl movements would come back online. Thankfully, they did.
Now, I’m not saying her ND wasn’t on the right path about what caused the constipation, but this is something I see very often: Straight-up physical injury gets overlooked when systems (especially digestive and reproductive) go haywire.
So, it’s worth thinking about:
- the last time you fell . . .
- or had such a fright that your abdomen locked down in response . . .
- or had a bad reaction to an annual physical exam . . .
- or got a cold that kept you coughing for days on end . . .
- or had a rambunctious 5 year old unexpectedly head butt you in your belly . . .
- or any number of other momentarily traumatic experiences.
Not all of these will result in dysfunction, but they can, and it’s good to keep an eye on them. It can save you a lot of time and energy if you take the physical structure of your belly seriously, as well as the more unseen forces like enzyme and bacterial balance, hormones, etc.
Once you have a sense of just how powerful the musculoskeletal forces in your body can be, the more you can take your treatment into your own hands or into the hands of a good manual therapist.
No matter how long I do it, I continue to be amazed by the kind of relief that can come from manual treatment.
That said, it’s pretty hard to remember all of the trips and falls, etc. that have happened in our lives. So, I believe one of the best ways to get more information about your own belly is to simply connect in to it.
Toward that end, here is one of my favorite exercises . . .
Reconnecting with Your Belly
Once you are comfortably seated . . .
1. Begin noticing how your breath is coming into your body. Is it staying in your chest or moving through your whole torso?
2. Start encouraging your breath to move in and out of your belly. Your belly inflates when you inhale and deflates when you exhale.
3. Continue breathing in this way, and gently place one hand on your belly and one hand on your low back.
4. Start feeling the movement of your belly as it expands and contracts between your hands.
5. From a calm, loving place, see if you can sense the tissues, the muscles, the fascia, the organs, the bones of your abdomen. It doesn’t matter if you’re accurate or not, just let your mind and imagination sink into this area and see what you notice.
6. From this place, you can ask your belly questions or offer encouragement, or simply sit and enjoy the relaxed awareness of yourself and your belly.
7. Take your time coming out of this meditative state. You may experience surges of emotions or anxiety or any other number of sensations. That’s all normal. Drink some water, feed yourself well, and repeat as often as you like.
- 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.