Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a functional condition affecting the intestines that is not related to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) which includes conditions such as Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis that cause permanent damage of the gut.

Symptoms of IBS may include:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Flatulence
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation

While IBS can occur at any age, it most commonly affects young adults. IBS is also more commonly found in women.

While IBS can cause a lot of discomfort and distress, it is not associated with permanent damage to the intestines or more serious conditions such as colon cancer. Although the exact cause of IBS is unknown, it is thought to be partially due to abnormal functioning of the muscular walls of the large intestine. Some of the known aggravating factors include emotional stress, infection and certain foods.

The large intestine (or the colon) is a large muscular tube that extracts water and salt from the digestive waste before being expelled from the body. Signals continuously moving back and forth between the bowel and the brain result in repeated contraction and relaxation of the muscles within the colon. This allows the waste product to be propelled down the length of the colon towards the rectum, where it is stored until a bowel motion occurs. This movement, known as gut 'motility', is important in maintaining regular bowel motion. In IBS sufferers, their intestines appear to be more sensitive to environmental stimuli (such as changes in routine, specific foods and stress). This can lead to muscle spasms that interfere with the guts natural motility, resulting in symptoms such as abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea and constipation.

The autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating many of the organs in the body (including the heart, lungs, liver, stomach and intestines). For the most part, we are unaware of the autonomic nervous system working as it functions in an involuntary, reflexive manner. When stressed, however, this function can become compromised, resulting in symptoms such as those associated with IBS.

In IBS, osteopathy works on the nervous and circulatory systems, spine, digestive organs, and thoracic and pelvic diaphragms to balance the nervous activity in the intestine, improve the lymphatic circulation , and address musculoskeletal pain. Osteopathy can help to relieve some of the symptoms of stress, further easing the symptoms of IBS as well as helping to prevent future attacks. We can also give advice on nutrition and diet to complement the treatment.

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Attali TV, Bouchoucha M, Benamouzig R

Published in the J Dig Dis Dec;14(12):654-61 2013

This study suggests that visceral osteopathy improves short-term and long-term abdominal distension and pain, and also decreases rectal sensitivity in IBS patients.

Hundscheid HW, Pepels MJ, Engels LG, Loffeld RJ.

Published in the J Gastroenterol Hepatol Sep;22(9):1394-8 2007

Osteopathic therapy is a promising alternative in the treatment of patients with IBS. Patients treated with osteopathy overall did better, with respect to symptom score and QOL.

Florance BM, Frin G, Dainese R, Nébot-Vivinus MH, Marine Barjoan E, Marjoux S, Laurens JP, Payrouse JL, Hébuterne X, Piche T 

Published in the Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol Aug;24(8):944-9 2012

Osteopathy improves the severity of IBS symptoms and its impact on quality of life. Osteopathy should therefore be considered for future research as an effective complementary alternative medicine in the management of IBS symptoms.

Müller A, Franke H, Resch KL, Fryer G 

Published in the J Am Osteopath Assoc Jun;114(6):470-9  2014

The present systematic review provides preliminary evidence that OMTh may be beneficial in the treatment of patients with IBS. However, caution is required in the interpretation of these findings because of the limited number of studies available and the small sample sizes.

Brugman R, Fitzgerald K, Fryer G

Published in the International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine Vol 13 (1) pages 17-23 2010

Participants reported an improvement in the overall severity of constipation, symptoms and quality of life. Further investigation of osteopathic treatment of constipation is recommended using larger sample sizes and a randomized controlled design.