Let’s Get Moving! How Chinese Medicine Can Help With Constipation

Constipation is a condition characterized by less than 3 bowel movements per week and can be either acute or chronic. There are many causes of constipation and some acute causes are unknown. Some factors that may play a role are stress or mood disorders, dehydration, a diet low in fiber, limited activity, and being an older adult female. In general, constipation is caused by slow bowel transit time which can cause the stool to become over-dry which increases the bowel’s inability to pass the stool. When the stool and bowels are especially dry, straining becomes an issue that may create other issues down the road such as hemorrhoids.

In more common cases of constipation, stress is often a factor. You may have heard of someone being in either fight/flight mode or rest and digest mode, this is a reference to the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PNS) nervous systems.The PNS is activated when we are at rest and in a relaxed state. The body starts to digest our food and increase digestive secretions and the intestines “turn on”.  The SNS is what our bodies use to keep our body in an alert and ready state from perceived danger. The digestive system stops, while blood and energy is diverted into our muscles in case we need to run away from that perceived threat. Basically while in an SNS state, all systems not needed for survival are put on pause, including intestinal activity. In modern times we are constantly stimulated into an artificial danger state from high amounts of stress. If the SNS is activated, we will not digest well and this may lead to bowel problems.

In Chinese medicine, the goal is to encourage bowel movements, support the patient, reduce stress levels, and address other related concerns that are contributing to the constipation pattern type. According to studies, acupuncture has been shown to increase bowel transit time just as well as conventional therapies (1). While acupuncture can help, it is not the only tool in your acupuncturist tool belt to help you. Chinese medicine is a whole body approach so do not hesitate to consult with your licensed acupuncturist at Selby Acupuncture about how you can optimize your digestion, minimize your reaction to stress, moderate your diet, and incorporate a prescribed Chinese herbal formula if advised.


  1. Efficacy Of Acupuncture For Chronic Constipation: a Systematic Review

Tao Zhang-Tony Chon-Baoyan Liu-Alexander Do-Guangxi Li-Brent Bauer-Linpeng Wang-Zhishun Liu – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23895148

(written by Katie)