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Self-Applied Acupressure May Improve Constipation Symptoms

December 22, 2014

A recent study conducted by Ryan Abbott, JD, MD, MTOM, and his colleagues at UCLA assessed the efficacy of applying external pressure to the perineum to alleviate constipation symptoms. The study, published in The Journal of General Internal Medicine on November 18, 2014, was featured in both UCLA Newsroom and Medscape.

About 19 percent of North Americans suffer from constipation, the digestive condition more common among women, non-whites, people older than 60, those who are not physically active, and the poor. The costs of the condition are significant, and it can also lead to depression, lower quality of life and a drop in work productivity. Current treatments include the use of laxatives, increased intake of dietary fiber and fluid, and exercise.

New research from the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine shows how Eastern and Western medicine can blend to alleviate this common medical problem. Ryan Abbott, JD, MD, MTOM, Associate Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School and Visiting Assistant Professor of Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and his colleagues conducted a randomized controlled trial demonstrating that perineal self-acupressure, a simple technique involving the application of external pressure to the perineum — the area between the anus and genitals — can help patients have a bowel movement. This study builds on earlier research, which suggest that the technique can facilitate defecation of stools, relax the anal sphincter muscles, and stimulate the nerves involved in bowel movement.

The study assessed 91 patients who met Rome III, the criteria for functional constipation. Of the 91, 45 were randomly assigned to standard care and 46 to the self-acupressure group. Both groups received educational materials about constipation and conventional treatment options. While the standard care group was given conventional treatment options, the self-acupressure group received additional sex-specific educational material and training in the technique.

According to the investigators, participants in the treatment group assessed the intervention positively. Seventy two percent of the 46 patients applying the self-acupressure group improved constipation symptoms at 4 weeks and said the technique helped to “avoid or better manage the effect of constipation.” In addition, 82% of the patients in the treatment group said they would continue use the technique, and 72% said they would recommend it to family and friends. Overall, the technique has shown benefits in improving bowel function and quality of life for people suffering from this common digestive condition.

"This study suggests that clinicians should consider incorporating education in perineal self-acupressure as a first-line treatment for constipation, along with conventional interventions such as increased exercise and dietary fiber intake," the authors conclude. In addition to the treatment's low-risk profile and the potential to control treatment costs, "perineal self-acupressure may represent an effective alternative to conventional treatment options," particularly for individuals who do not respond favorably to existing treatment options.


To view the original article on Medscape, click here.
*Note: Users may need to register for a free Medscape account for complete access.

Click here to view the feature in UCLA Newsroom.

To learn more about the technique, click here to visit the Yale Perineal Pressure webpage.

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