Cramps, bloating, running to the bathroom…or lack thereof. Oh my! Gastrointestinal symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, urgency, diarrhea, and excess gas may have sent you to your local GI doctor.
After testing and ruling out all the “bad stuff” (serious pathology), you may have landed with an IBS or irritable bowel syndrome diagnosis.
Despite affecting nearly 5% of all people in the US, Canada, and UK ¹, people living with IBS find themselves frustrated over how tricky it is to manage their symptoms.
For IBS awareness month, we will take you through 3 ways you can take control of IBS.
Routine, routine, routine
Your bowel is like a small toddler. It likes to do the same thing, at the same time, in the same place every day. Do your IBS symptoms really ramp up with travel? The routine gets disrupted.
A good bowel routine starts with sleep. We all know sleep is important, but we recognize that improving sleep is much easier said than done.
Start by identifying the barriers keeping you from a good night’s sleep. It could be as simple as shutting off technology before bed and reading, making the room a little cooler, or a 5 minute stretch to wind down. If you’re still having difficulty, seek out the help of an expert who can help you sleep better.
Aim to go to bed and wake up around the same time. Ever notice that you may skip a bowel movement when you have to wake up for an early flight? Sleep starts your bowel routine.
What does your morning routine look like? Do you have time to sit and sip your coffee and eat or are you running out the door?
If you’re constantly on the run and dismissing your urge to have a bowel movement, your body will stop sending those urges so regularly leading to constipation. If you trend toward IBS-D, revving up your nervous system by running around in the morning may lead to increased urgency.
Build in some type of relaxation into your morning. That doesn’t have to be a full meditation session but maybe just 20 minutes to sip your coffee (warm beverages can help stimulate a bowel movement if you suffer from IBS C). Spend 5-10 minutes just sitting on the toilet breathing (don’t strain).
What if you’re a teacher? Waking up at 4 am may not work for you. That’s okay. Try to create a relaxing lunch routine at work. Eat your lunch free from distractions and try sitting on the toilet after your lunch.
Finally, be a little boring with your meals for a bit. People living with IBS suffer from a lot of food sensitivities. Talk to your medical provider and/or a registered dietician about foods you should avoid and include in your diet.
Try to eat similar meals of the same size at the same time each day. And perhaps, most importantly, chew your food, but we will get more into that under “stress management.”
Ask most people suffering from IBS and most will tell you symptoms are worse when they are stressed out.
There are the obvious stress management techniques like meditation, journaling, or yoga. Find the stress management strategy that works for you, but let’s also talk about another sneaky source of stress for your GI system.
Are your meals stressing your gut out? Think about the last meal you ate. What was the setting like? What did you eat? How quickly did you eat? How did you feel after?
Abdominal pain is one of the hallmark symptoms of IBS. Your viscera (organs) become extra sensitive. Breaking down food is hard work.
Chew your food…a lot. Chewing triggers the gastrocolic reflex (aka gets all digestive processes going). Whether you suffer from IBS C or D, increasing chewing and mindfulness while eating can help food begin to break down before hitting your stomach and intestines. This creates less work for a system that’s a bit over taxed.
Counting each bite may drive you a little crazy. Instead put your utensil down after each bite. Put on an album you like and aim to stretch out the meal for a few songs or a podcast perhaps. We don’t recommend watching TV. This is a bit too distracting…and definitely don’t turn on the news. Unfortunately, most of the news induces stress these days.
Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy
As pelvic floor specialists, of course pelvic floor PT had to be on this list. But don’t just take it from us, the American College of Gastroenterology’s guidelines on management of irritable bowel syndrome recommends testing to rule out pelvic floor dysfunction ¹.
Pelvic floor physical therapists can help you improve ease of evacuation with bowel movements, perform manual therapy to assist in pain management, help improve urgency, and guide you through establishing a routine.
Ready to get your IBS under control? Explore our website https://hudsonvalleypt.com/ and give us a call at 914 831 9575 to schedule an evaluation.
- Brian Lacy PhD, MD, FACG et. al, “ACG Clinical Guideline: Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome”, American Journal of Gastroenterology 116 (2021): 17-44, accessed April 18,2023. https://webfiles.gi.org/links/PCC/ACG_Clinical_Guideline__Management_of_Irritable.11.pdf