by Carlyn Molloseau, L.M.T.
More than three million people each year are diagnosed with hiatal hernias, or stomach hernias, according to the Mayo Clinic. A hiatal hernia is a condition where the stomach pushes up through the esophageal opening in the diaphragm muscle which can lead to abdominal pain, nausea and acid reflux.
Are you one of the three million people who suffer from this discomfort on a weekly or even daily basis? An easy, non-invasive step to help address these symptoms is to ask your massage therapist to incorporate abdominal massage into your bodywork sessions.
While a hiatal hernia isn’t always the cause of acid reflux, it is common.* These particular hernias are caused by an increase in pressure in the abdomen, from pregnancy, obesity, coughing or abdominal strain resulting from heavy lifting, for example. Think about devouring that delicious Thanksgiving dinner; afterward, your stomach feels like it’s about to burst. This feeling is due to the combination of sitting down (condensing the abdominal organs) and the increased abdominal pressure. While this feeling may not be a hernia, it is still uncomfortable. Standing up often will relieve some of this pressure, as the stomach and other internal organs of the abdominal cavity can shift back to a normal position of less pressure. In the same way that gravity will help release this upward shift, your massage therapist can also pull down your stomach for a longer lasting relief.
The protocol for "pulling down the stomach," is just what it sounds like–we pull down the stomach! As a client receiving bodywork, you would disrobe as discussed with your therapist, and start by lying face up on the table. With a towel or pillowcase to cover the chest and the sheet pulled to just beneath your navel, your therapist will work the entire abdominal area in order to release tension from the muscles, and then work up to the stomach. Using the tips of the fingers, pressure will be applied inward toward the spine to try and "grip" the stomach. A slow, downward motion as in pulling towards the feet is then applied to bring the stomach to its normal resting spot. This protocol will help release the stomach from pressing upwards into the esophagus, reducing the prospect of acid reflux.
Abdominal massage may be the path to help relieve stomach complaints and acid reflux. It’s easy, simple and can be incorporated into your regular massage or be the focus of your entire session. Whether you are new to massage or a regular client, ask your therapist to guide you. Improvement is felt after just one session!
*There are different kinds of hiatal hernias. They differ in their medical seriousness depending on location and size. More in-depth treatment may be required.