By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D.
Using a laxative or stool softener so that you can have a bowel movement? Everyone experiences constipation once in a while, but chronic constipation can be a serious issue. Acupuncture and TCM offer a natural way to get constipation relief.
Having difficulty going to the bathroom (pooping) is unfortunately a very common problem. Millions of people see their doctor seeking constipation treatment every year. People of all ages—children, adults, and older people—can suffer from slow digestion and hard bowel movements.
Symptoms of constipation can include:
- Dry, hard stool
- Having less than three bowel movements per week
- Bowel movements are difficult and/or painful
- Bloated stomach
- Abdominal cramps
Basically, constipation occurs when the muscles of the large intestine are not properly moving matter through and out of the colon. Slow movement can result in too much water being absorbed by the colon, causing hard, dry stools.
In general, “normal” bowel movements should be soft and easy to pass, and should happen daily. However, it is not at all uncommon for people to have painful constipation and only go a few times a week, or have even less frequent bowel movements (severe constipation).
There can be many different reasons why there is an imbalance of water in the colon, or that the muscles aren’t functioning well enough. These deeper causes need to be addressed if chronic constipation is becoming an issue.
Fortunately, TCM treatment for constipation includes traditional herb formulations that have been used for centuries as a natural laxative, and acupuncture, which can help strengthen the muscle action of the intestines.
Constipation can occasionally occur due to short-term circumstances. Many people experience temporary constipation while they are on a trip and using unfamiliar bathrooms. Eating foods that are unusual for you or low in fiber, becoming dehydrated, not getting any physical activity for several days—these situations could all cause sluggish elimination.
Chronic constipation or severe constipation can have many causes. Sometimes constipation can be caused by a bowel obstruction, or something physically blocking the intestine.
Constipation can also be a secondary condition related to another chronic health problem.
Conditions that cause damage to nerves may disrupt the signals that tell the muscles of the colon to move. These could include:
Hormonal imbalances or fluctuations can also lead to constipation. Hormone-related conditions that could contribute to constipation include:
Some medications can cause constipation, such as:
- Narcotics, opioid pain medications (such as Vicodin)
- NSAIDs, like ibuprofen
- Some antidepressants (like Zoloft)
- Blood pressure medications
- Iron supplements
- Antacids like Maalox or Mylanta
- Medications for overactive bladder, like Ditropan and Detrol
- Parkinson’s medications, like Sinemet
- Nausea medications
Using laxatives and other over-the-counter constipation remedies as a habit can, unfortunately, perpetuate the cycle and lead to ongoing, chronic constipation.
Constipation Side Effects
It is very important to find the root cause of constipation and find a solution. Chronic constipation can lead to other serious complications, such as:
- Anal fissures
- Fecal impaction
- Stress urinary incontinence
Fortunately, acupuncture and TCM offer natural remedies for constipation without habit-forming medications.
Can Acupuncture Help Relieve Constipation?
In TCM, we diagnose a condition based on the pattern of symptoms each individual person is experiencing, as sometimes the same condition—in this case, constipation—can actually be influenced by many different variables. The diagnostic pattern gives us information about what acupuncture points and herbs will help treat that individual case.
According to TCM theory, constipation can present as:
- Yin Deficiency
- Excess Heat
- Qi Deficiency
In older people, chronic constipation is often related to weakness in the kidneys and liver, which leads to malnourishment and stagnant Qi.
In general, TCM constipation treatment will focus on helping to bring more moisture into the colon and clear heat, while activating the Qi (energy) of the bowel and removing physical and energetic blockages.
Many people who suffer from constipation don’t have enough microbiota or “good bacteria” in their colon. Acupuncture and herbs can help to improve the gut biome.
One study showed that electro-acupuncture helped a significant number of people with chronic constipation have more frequent bowel movements.
One study conducted in China found that, after 20 sessions, gastrointestinal patients who received acupuncture for constipation had a success rate of over 82%, meaning they had more frequent and easier bowel movements.
Another study showed that patients who went through a series of acupuncture treatments sustained longer-lasting efficacy from their treatment than patients who had used medicinal laxatives.
One commonly used Chinese formulation for constipation has been shown to help increase levels of oleamide, which is associated with intestinal motility.
Acupuncture Near Me for Constipation in Los Angeles and Santa Monica
At Art of Wellness, we often treat patients for constipation, whether that is their primary complaint, or sometimes a secondary issue to their other concerns. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are excellent modalities for helping people achieve regularity and better overall digestion.
*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.