Learn more about the potential benefits and risks of abdominal massages for digestion.
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Woman massing her stomach
Credit: Yana Bulgakova / Stocksy

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To be completely candid, bloating sucks. There are few things as painful and uncomfortable as being bloated due to digestive issues, whether it's caused by eating ice cream despite being lactose intolerant (no judgment!) or something more chronic, such as irritable bowel syndrome.

Leave it to TikTok to offer a solution for an issue many have experienced at one point or another. Introducing #GutTok's most recent fascination: bowel massages (aka abdominal massages). ICYDK, #GutTok is the corner of the social video platform that's filled with videos discussing all things related to digestive health. Lately, there's been an influx of users sharing videos in which they talk about the benefits of doing abdominal massages with their hands to help reduce bloating and constipation.

It may sound intriguing, but can abdominal massages really reduce bloating and help with constipation? The good news is that the viral trend does offer some relief from bloating symptoms and uncomfortably, but only when it's done correctly. Ahead, experts break down what abdominal massages are, how they can help with constipation and bloating, and tips for how to perform them safely.

What are abdominal massages?

Remember when you were younger, and whenever you got a bellyache, a loved one would rub your tummy to make it feel better? Well, abdominal massages aren't so different from that, except you're giving the massage — albeit a more controlled, strategic one — to yourself. "The theory is that [abdominal massages] help to reduce [constipation and bloating] symptoms by manually moving poop forward," says Niket Sonpal, M.D., a New York-based internist and gastroenterologist. (Related: What the Types of Poop You Pass Can Tell You About Your Digestive Health)

In many videos on TikTok, users show themselves pressing their hands along their stomach in a circular motion to massage the area in hopes of getting things moving in their digestive tract. To reap the benefits of an abdominal massage, though, the direction you move your hands in while doing the massage and the pressure used is imperative (more on that later).

Do abdominal massages for constipation work?

Few studies provide concrete evidence on the benefits of abdominal massages for digestive health. However, when used in addition to getting enough fiber in your diet and drinking water, it "can't hurt," says Dr. Sonpal.

"Abdominal massage can aid digestion by stimulating peristalsis or the natural muscular contractions of the large and small intestines that move the contents through the area," adds Stephanie L. Copeman, A.A.S, L.M.T, N.C.B.T.M.B, a massage therapist at the Mayo Clinic. "It can also help reduce constipation, bloating, [and] increase the frequency of bowel movements." (Related: Do You Really Need Digestive Enzyme Supplements?)

To enjoy the potential benefits of an abdominal massage, "always go from [your] right of the abdomen to the left," says Dr. Sonpal. "This way you are moving things towards the rectum," he explains.

The most common method mentioned on TikTok that's also recommended by doctors is the "ILU" technique. It's a is a guideline for how to do the abdominal massage strokes that refers to what the motion of the hands looks like on the stomach. The "ILU" technique can also resemble a giant "U" shape if you're looking down at your abdominals while doing the massage.

"To help with bloating and digestion, you should massage your way around the entire abdominal in a circular motion or a big upside-down letter 'U,'" says Lisa Ganjhu D.O., a clinical associate professor of medicine in the gastroenterology and hepatology divisions at the New York University Langone Medical Center. "Start at the lower right side, above the hip bone, and then work up to below your ribs, across the upper belly to the left of ribs, and then down to your left lower hip bone," she says. "The pressure [should] be applied with long strokes in a big circle or tiny mini circles."

Are abdominal massages for constipation safe?

"Outside of possibly causing bowel movement (which is the goal), there are very few [side effects of abdominal massages]," says Dr. Sonpal. So, you can rest assured that these types of massages are okay to do. Keep in mind, consuming an adequate amount of fiber and water are also necessary for healthy digestion.

That said, you might have seen videos of TikTokers using a tennis ball instead of their hands to perform an abdominal massage. But experts say a tennis ball offers too much pressure, possibly making the massage unsafe. Your internal organs, such as your small and large intestines, "are very delicate, and too much pressure could potentially damage them," says Dr. Ganjhu. "Light, but firm, comfortable strokes are best."

True: Abdominal massages can help with constipation and bloating

While the studies are minimal, the benefits of abdominal massages outweigh the risks, according to professionals. So, you can go ahead and give this trend a shot to relieve occasional constipation and bloating — just save the tennis balls for the court. Note: For extreme or chronic instances of bloating or constipation, it's best to consult with a physician to discuss an appropriate treatment plan for you.