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Massage for IBS by Rowan Nancarrow, RMT

hamilton ibs massage

Trust Your Gut

It's an old proverb and most of us have heard it since we were children. But what do you do when your gut rebels in ways you don't understand? 

Many of us suffer from digestive issues in some shape or form. Whether it's food intolerance, stress-related sensitivities or inflammation, sometimes our guts work in ways that don't make sense to us. More and more people are being diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, a "diagnosis of exclusion" that just means a collection of symptoms that affect the large intestine. Defined by symptoms like cramping, abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation, it is usually brought on by food sensitivities, stress and lifestyle factors such as lack of movement or postural issues.

So what do we do about this? It's hard enough just to find time to feed ourselves, let alone figure out what foods make us feel better and which exacerbate pain and digestion issues. 

What a great time to think about abdominal massage! Massage therapy is an amazing modality to treat many of the issues that can manifest in the abdomen, such as stress, constipation, metabolic function and emotional well-being, and isn't always considered as a first line therapy for digestive discomfort. Let me change your mind... 

Constipation & Bloating

Folks dealing with IBS symptoms are all too familiar with the feeling of uncomfortable, full bellies. Massage can help to directly move gas and waste through the digestive tract to relieve the discomfort associated with contripation and bloating. 

Improve Metabolism & Overall Digestive Function

By regularly treating this area, massage helps to bring blood flow and oxygen to the gastrointestinal tract, which over time leads to a healthier, more active metabolic function. This is especially helpful for individuals with slower metabolisms. 

Decrease Stress Levels

Massage therapy in the abdomen will actively release tension in the muscle, viscera and fascia of the area. This decrease in muscular tension can helps reduce cortisol levels, the "stress hormone" that, while necessary, can have adverse effects if it builds up in excess in the blood system.  

Increase Emotional Well-Being

The abdomen houses the enteric nervous system, an autonomous functioning system which connects to the central nervous system through the vagus nerve. This system releases up to 30 neurotransmitters and plays a key function in satiety and emotional fulfillment. Massage therapy can help increase the functioning of this nervous system by stimulating the diaphragm, decreasing our heart rates, stimulating the release of digestive enzymes and therefore stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system to help up relax. 

Never had massage in your abdomen? You'll be shocked to find out that your low back pain may actually be referred pain from constipation, or that the tightness in your shoulders is your body's way of holding tension from gas and bloating. 

Whether you suffer directly from IBS or you're just not sure what's going on with your gut, try working with a registered massage therapist to traverse the unknown - our gut health- and to re-establish that age old trust in your gut. 

Get in touch to chat more about how massage could help your digestive troubles or book an appointment with Rowan Nancarrow, RMT by going here.


How much is stress contributing to your digestive woes? 

How much is stress contributing to your digestive woes? 

Oh hello there. If we haven’t met, I’m Michelle! A Holistic Nutritionist from Hamilton who is no stranger to funky digestive issues LET. ME. TELL. YOU.

And I’m going to paint you a picture and maybe you can relate, because this was my story for YEARS.

You’re bloated (oh yes).

You’re gassy (are you ever).

But you're trying to eat well (isn't that frustrating!?)

Now what if I told you that this could have less to do with what you’re eating and more to do with how stressed out you are while eating...

Let’s talk it out.

Picture having your favourite meal in front of you while you’re propped up on the couch watching Game of Thrones (and if you don’t watch G.O.T, think “on the edge of your seat, freaking out, screaming at the TV” kind of situation going on). You. Are. Stressed. Out. And you’re barely looking at your food as you gulp it down in a stressed blackout.

Besides the obvious issue of not enjoying your food, there is an even worse chemical reaction (or lack thereof) going on.

When you're stressed, that’s all your body can focus on. Your sympathetic nervous system ensures that only the bodily functions that are absolutely necessary are utilized to their fullest. You become more alert, your adrenaline starts pumping and you are ready to utilize any quick energy sources your body has to offer - which does not include the slow and calculated process of digestion!

Being stressed out (deadlines, TV, traffic, kiddies, anxiety, news updates…whatever it may be that day) puts your body into immediate survival mode, pumping blood to allow you to run faster and produce enough stress hormones to deal with whatever’s going on; in your body’s opinion, digestion can wait.


Stress even has the power to reduce the amount of stomach acid being produced which causes the food to stay in your stomach longer than it should, resulting in fermentation in your gut. Fermentation that creates gas which makes you bloated, makes you burpy and can result in acid reflux (the worst!).

This is such a common story and so important to realize so you can focus on decreasing your stress especially around meal times. This doesn’t have to be a huge change either, just stay mindful!

Take a few deep breaths.

Just take a moment before eating to appreciate what you're about to eat. Give yourself some love for taking the time to make this food (or making the incredible choice if you're ordering out!). Appreciate the fact that you have access to this beautiful meal and nourishment. Appreciate whoever it is that you're sharing this meal with (human, pet or house plant) and give your body some time to prepare for this meal. Not only will this help your digestion but I promise your food will even taste better!

Put down the cell phone.

Whether it's answering texts, emails or being available for phone calls, this is stressful. Being available through your phone at all times is stressful. Leave it aside. Don't scroll through Instagram mindlessly, don't feel the need to respond right away, just let whatever you can deal with later, be dealt with later. I always think about my family growing up and letting the landline ring if we were eating dinner. When you eat, let that landline ring!

Turn off Game of Thrones.

Or whatever show it is that you're binge watching right now. Even if it's not the most stressful show in the world, watching it is still taking your attention and focus away from the food you're about to devour. Limiting the distractions is important, and especially if those distractions make your blood boil and your heart race for Shaggy Dog (last reference, I swear).

Chew your food until it’s absolute mush.

Okay this is kind of a weird one to get used to and you might look a little crazy, BUT TRY IT! Have you ever seen a WHOLE KERNEL OF CORN in your poop!? I have, and it's alarming and a true sign that you aren't chewing enough. And I know this may seem basic but you'd be surprised at how little we chew our food. Keep chewing! It helps break the food down to ease the burden on your digestion and speed up the process. Chew until you can't decipher what's in your mouth anymore. Chew until your food is mush and you think you've chewed enough and then chew some more. Eventually this does become more of a habit and isn't something you'll need to think about. But for now, chew chew and chew some more!

And then focus your attention and energy on the task at hand; eating the heck out of that delicious piece of food and allowing your body to use all it’s wonderful tools of digestion. It makes all the difference.

Reach out and let me know how you do! I love getting all the juicy details in my inbox: