What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder of gut motility, that is, of the way the bowel contracts or moves. It may become overactive, underactive, or a mixture of both.
Symptoms include cramping, bloating and gas, and abdominal pain, all of which are relieved by passing a bowel motion. There can be constipation, or periods of constipation separated by periods of loose stools. Diarrhoea- dominant IBS is less common.
Symptoms are episodic, meaning they last for several days through to several months at a time. Triggers can be foods, or stress and anxiety. Being in a new or different environment such as travelling or being at work or socialising can bring on symptoms.
IBS can be experienced by anyone and is becoming more common as we live in a world with more and more personal stressors. As it is a disorder of function not structure or chemistry, there is no test that proves you have IBS. However, a colonoscopy, blood test, and stool sample test may be offered to exclude any condition that would benefit from medical therapy.
Any rectal bleeding, unexpected weight loss, reduction of appetite, and nausea with vomiting is not IBS and should be investigated by your GP. IBS will not turn into cancer, but it does cause sufferers high levels of distress and limitations in the areas of work, socialising and travel, and relationships.
What Can Be Done For IBS?
Thankfully, treatment for IBS does not require heavy medication that would have side-effects. Anti-spasmodics could be useful, and peppermint oil capsules can calm gut spasms.
Lactose is a common trigger for diarrhoea, so going off cow’s dairy can help some people. Caffeine can cause gut cramping too, so it may be wise to cut down.
Some people are unable to fully digest some types of carbohydrates in the small intestine. These carbohydrates pass into the large intestine where they ferment, producing gas. The gut walls of people with IBS are thought to be more sensitive, so the resulting distension is felt as pain. The FODAP diet can help you identify which foods you may have trouble digesting. See an accredited practicing dietician for guidance.
It probably also matters what ‘state of mind’ you are in when you eat. Stress will reduce the levels of digestive enzymes you produce, so your digestion is more likely to be incomplete.
How Can a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist Help With IBS?
Our pelvic health physiotherapists can help you understand how the bowel works, and can help you develop insights into how your lifestyle or habits may be affecting your bowels. We can help you optimise bowel routine, sensation, control, and completeness of emptying.
We can teach you to identify and better manage the physical reactions you have when triggered by a stressful event. Your gut is your ‘second brain’ and may know that you are emotionally unsettled or stressed before you become aware of it, causing changes to gut motility. We can help you get started with gut directed hypnotherapy, body scanning meditation, and other relaxation techniques to calm your sensitized nervous system.
A tight or poorly controlled pelvic floor can cause a hold-up at the rectum, and this can have upstream effects on the colon. A weak pelvic floor can fail to adequately support the rectum, also contributing to emptying difficulties and digestive discomfort. Tender points within the pelvic floor muscles can be a source of referred pain into the abdomen. We can help you normalise your pelvic floor muscle function.
Myofascial restrictions through the abdomen, spine, ribcage or hip could have effects on gut motility and comfort. We can help you find the right stretches and positioning to manage your condition.
To help guide you better on how to manage your bowel and the overall health of your pelvic floor muscles, we recommend consulting with one of our pelvic health physiotherapists. Book with us today to get started.