Everybody Needs a Belly Rub!
If you are like most, asking someone to touch your stomach is the furthest thing from your mind - in fact, you might think it's kind of weird! But abdominal massage has a ton of benefits. Pain relief, stress reduction, digestion improvement, pelvic support, and trauma processing all make the top of the list.
Relieve Your Pain You are already aware that tight muscles can cause pain by pressing on nerves and throwing your body out of alignment. We have also previously reviewed how muscle tension - in and of itself uncomfortable - can cause trigger points. Trigger points in the abdomen can obviously create stomach pain, but they can also cause pain in less intuitive areas thanks to the phenomenon of referred pain. Hip pain, low back pain, mid back pain, even groin and genital pain can all stem from tension in the stomach. Regular abdominal massage can help to release and prevent these overuse dysfunctions and keep you pain free! (Check out the diagrams for a pain pattern visual - "X" marks the trigger point.)
Clear Your Stress
Most massage is great for relaxation, but abdominal massage can pack an even bigger punch as it can stimulate the Vagus Nerve. Wondering almost the entire way through the body, it is the longest nerve in the autonomic nervous system - the part of your nervous system that regulates all of your unconsciously performed body functions such as heartbeat and digestion. The picture below illustrates the abdominal portion in yellow. It is thought that there are some elements of this nerve that contribute to sympathetic functions (fight/flight/freeze). Much clearer are its influences on the rest and digest functions otherwise known as the parasympathetic nervous system. This means that engaging this muscle will help the body turn down its stress volume and allow you to sink into that highly desired blissful state of calm. It is most likely the reason that massaging your stomach is so relaxing!
Improve Your Digestion
As mentioned above, belly rubbing can ramp up the nerve action in charge of digestion. However, your GI will also benefit from massage by releasing fascial adhesions and encouraging proper organ alignment. We often here that form denotes function. If we apply that to our internal systems, it makes sense that organs bound in over restrictive connective tissue or twisted in funny ways can lead to pain or malabsorption issues. Either of these states, bound or twisted, can occur through physical trauma, dehydration, crunched posture, or high stress. Using massage to rebalance your abdomen can help to counteract many of the complications that result from these causes. Users of abdominal massage cite improvements in specific digestive conditions such as constipation, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), Crohn's disease, multiple food allergies, bloating and gas, early satiation, and indigestion.
Support Your Pelvis
Sexual and reproductive function are key indicators of your overall health. Irregular and/or painful menstrual cycles can indicate nutritional or hormonal imbalances in women. Nonbacterial prostatitis can cause ED and incontinence in men. Pelvic floor dysfunction in either sex can be painful, embarrassing, and confusing leading to declines in relationships, self-esteem, and even interfere with your ability to work. Though these types of conditions should be dismissed by a doctor and internal pelvic floor physical therapy might be indicated, external abdominal massage can be a significant tool for regaining and maintaining pelvic health by helping to create to conditions for optimal circulation, nerve flow, energetic balance, and organ placement.
Process Your Emotions
Trauma affects us on a physical as well as emotional/mental level. This is part of the reason we may think we have moved past something in talk therapy, but still get angry or experience sensory flashbacks when presented with certain triggers - our nervous system, connective tissue, and muscles remember the event, experiencing it as if the event were actively happening. Massage helps to release these armoring positions and tissue memories, orienting or bodies to the safety of the present. Abdominal massage can be especially potent in this realm as the gastrointestinal and reproductive spaces are viewed as our energetic center in various traditions making them places we tend to store difficult emotions.
Almost every culture in the world has a traditional form of abdominal massage. Maya, Thai, Shiatsu, and Ayurvedic are just a few. Finding a knowledgeable practitioner to work with you in professional sessions and teach you protocols to do self abdominal massage at home is a wonderful experience. If you get the chance, I would try them all!
But if you're too excited to wait, here are a couple tips to start massaging now and get familiar with your stomach:
Lay down with your knees bent or supported by a pillow. It's much easier and feels better to work on your stomach when your muscles aren't engaging to hold you up.
Use a small amount of oil or lotion. You can work over your clothes, but it will be easier to feel changes if you don't have to feel through fabric.
Always move clockwise. Our GI systems move in this direction, so it's a good idea to go with the flow.
Start in the center. Working from your belly or can help you mentally (or physically of you want to not down or draw your findings) note where spots of tension live and how they change as you continue your massage practice.
Notice differences. Changes in texture, temperature, and tenderness can all be signs of imbalances.
Work to comfort, not tolerance! Massage should feel good. If you are cringing against your pressure, you are defeating the purpose!
Know somebody who could benefit from a belly rub? Share this article with them!
Are you that somebody? Call me and we'll set up your initial Arvigo Therapy session!
*This article is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. Consult with a licensed massage professional or your medical doctor to ensure you are healthy enough for massage and to discuss any modifications which may need to be made based on your current state of health.
___________________________________________ Rhiannon Flores-Drennen
LMBT & Founder of Philosopher's Stone Therapeutic Massage
Rhiannon loves helping you solve your pain puzzles! A chronic pain specialist with a sub-specialty in pelvic dysfunction, she understands the huge impact pain can have on your life and is dedicated to helping you reach your health goals so you can enjoy your life fully and whole. She has augmented her initial massage training with multiple courses and certifications including SMRT, ATMAT, and IHPS to ensure she has the skills to create effective and lasting change for you. But don't go on blind faith - check out her amazing reviews!