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Constipation

How do Bowels Work?

Your bowel is a long muscular tube that moves and empties faeces (poo). The opening of the bowels is called the anus. Pelvic floor and sphincter muscles control the opening and closing of the anus. Nerves also send messages between your bowels, muscles and brain to let the brain know when it is time to empty.

What is Constipation?

Constipation is when your bowel motions are less frequent, you are having trouble passing bowel motions or they are too hard and dry. Constipation is common and occurs at some time in over 25% of children.

Symptoms may include: discomfort when toileting, passing only small amounts at a time and the feeling of ‘incomplete emptying’ when you leave the toilet. Other signs of constipation include pain, cramps or abdominal swelling.

Severe constipation is the most common cause of soiling, or faecal incontinence. This is because hard bowel motions are difficult to pass and may cause a partial blockage high up the bowel. When this happens watery bowel motions often flow around the constipated stool without warning. This is sometimes mistaken for diarrhoea.

Constipation can also affect bladder control. Daytime wetting and urinary frequency will be worsened if constipation is involved. An over-full bowel (due to constipation) can press on your bladder, reducing the amount of urine it can hold or making you feel like you need to pass urine urgently. Constipation can also affect your pelvic floor muscles. Pelvic floor muscle strength and coordination is important for both bladder and bowel control.

What Causes Constipation?

Constipation normally occurs when your colon (part of your digestive system) absorbs too much water from your bowel motions. This may occur because:
  • your food moves through your digestive system too slowly
  • your bowel motions stay in your rectum (the end of your digestive system) too long
  • your body does not have the ability to clear all the bowel contents
  • your body does not have the correct nutritional balance

This results in your bowel motions becoming too dry and hard. If left untreated, chronic constipation may result in long term damage and the development of poor bowel habits.

Treatment for Constipation

Assessment and treatment at the Mars Clinic are provided by advanced-trained Physiotherapists. The type and duration of treatment for constipation will vary depending on the cause of the constipation and the needs of the individual. Treatment may include:
  • Teaching correct bladder and bowel habits
  • Practical advice and strategies for management at home
  • Timed voiding and drinking programs
  • Recommendation for medications that may assist constipation. There are various types of bowel bulking agents, stimulants and lubricants, but they all work differently so it is important to talk to a medical professional before commencing long-term use
  • Referral to a medical specialist, or other allied health professional, as required
*Some content kindly adapted from the CFA Website:  www.continence.org.au


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For details regarding Physiotherapy for the management of Men’s and Women’s Continence, please view our Active Rehabilitation Physiotherapy website