There are many causes of abdominal pain, and anyone experiencing new or acute pain should always first seek medical help. However many people suffer from chronic pain which can make their life a misery at times.
Causes of chronic abdominal pain
Chronic abdominal pain can be caused by a range of digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohns disease and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). In times of flare, pain may be accompanied by other symptoms such as diarrhoea, nausea and bloating. All of these conditions are also linked to stress and can be exacerbated by any stressful situations.
Women can suffer from endometriosis which is a condition where cells similar to the ones in the lining of the womb are found elsewhere in the pelvic cavity. It is a chronic and often debilitating condition causing chronic pain, fatigue, bowel and bladder problems.
Many people also experience abdominal pain as a result of scar tissue. Open surgeries such as appendectomies or caesarians are often life-saving procedures. Other procedures may be performed by a laparoscopy, also known as keyhole surgery. The purpose of this is to minimise the disruption of surgery by making smaller incisions and inserting small surgical instruments. Keyhole surgery is often used to remove endometrial tissue or cysts and to repair damage such as a small hernia.
Although all these causes of chronic abdominal pain are generally well known, effective treatment can sometimes be more problematic. Digestive disorders may be treated by medications which can often cause further unwanted side effects. Problem scar tissue is often treated through further surgery to cut it out.
However, with a holistic and a fascial understanding of what’s going on, it can be possible to find more holistic ways to help reduce pain and other symptoms.
How does stress affect the abdomen?
As already mentioned, many digestive disorders are either caused, or made worse, by stress. Stress is always a mind and body condition as the two are just parts of the same whole. If you have mental or emotional stress, it will be reflected in your body, and vice versa. In the case of the digestive system, there is a direct connection with the brain via the vagus nerve. This nerve uniquely acts as a communicator between brain and gut and is positively affected by serotonin and dopamine, the feel good chemicals usually associated with the brain but which are produced mainly in the gut. In times of stress, the body switches into fight or flight mode and one major side-effect of this is to switch off the digestion and by association the vagus nerve. Anyone who finds themselves in a cycle of ongoing stress can therefore experience both sluggish digestion, and depression brought about by insufficient feel good chemicals.
An important part of managing a digestive disorder should therefore include ways to stimulate the vagus nerve and help improve gut motility. One simple technique is to lie with gentle pressure on the back of the neck, for example using two myofascial balls. This may sound like a strange way to help your digestion, but this area is actually the origin of the vagus nerve from where it travels through the body to the gut. Pressure here can re-activate the nerve and you can often tell you’re in the right place as your tummy will start to gurgle.
Scar tissue and abdominal pain
Abdominal scar tissue can also create chronic pain for many people. As the fascia repairs post-surgery, it creates a patch of collagen, the body’s ‘strength protein’. This patch creates an area of natural restriction which changes the tension throughout the whole body. Even keyhole surgery can create unintentional scarring as the tools used have to travel through tissue to reach the problem area, thereby creating a tunnel of scarring. Sometimes bodies react to surgery by going into repair overdrive and creating so much scar tissue that adhesions form where the scar tissue sticks onto other internal structures such as organs. Working with scar tissue is possible and a skilled myofascial therapist can help to reduce the effects of scarring through tissue manipulation. It’s also possible for you to help scar tissue release yourself through gentle myofascial stretches of the abdominal area.
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