Can Exercise Help Gastroparesis?

By Dr. Zarina Vitebsky, DPT, MSPT, PRPC, TPS, LPF, DN on 10/27/2023

A Pelvic Floor Patient Experiencing Gastroparesis

Understanding Gastroparesis

Definition and Causes

Gastroparesis is a medical condition that affects the stomach's ability to properly empty its contents into the small intestine. This can be caused by damage to the vagus nerve, which controls the muscles in the stomach, or by damage to the stomach muscles themselves. Other potential causes include diabetes, surgery, and certain medications.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The most common symptoms of gastroparesis include nausea, vomiting, bloating, and feeling full quickly. These symptoms can be similar to other digestive disorders, making it difficult to diagnose. Doctors may use various tests, such as gastric emptying scans and endoscopy, to determine if a patient has gastroparesis.

Treatment Options

While there is no cure for gastroparesis, there are various treatment options available to help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. These may include pelvic floor physical therapy, dietary changes, medications to help with stomach emptying, and in severe cases, surgery. Pelvic floor therapy can help alleviate symptoms such as constipation, difficulty with bowel movements, abdominal pain, and bladder issues. Pelvic floor physical therapy (PT) focuses on the muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues that make up the pelvic floor. Pelvic floor PT can help by addressing myofascial trigger points and teaching relaxation techniques for pain, and can promote proper bowel mechanics and function.

In recent years, there has been growing interest in the role of exercise in managing gastroparesis.

Benefits of Exercise for Gastroparesis

Improved Digestion

Regular exercise can help improve digestion in individuals with gastroparesis. This is because physical activity helps stimulate the digestive system, promoting the movement of food through the digestive tract. This can help alleviate symptoms such as bloating, nausea, and abdominal discomfort.

Increased Gastric Emptying

Exercise has been shown to increase gastric emptying in individuals with gastroparesis. This means that food moves more quickly through the stomach, reducing the amount of time it sits and potentially causing symptoms. This can lead to improved digestion and a decrease in symptoms.

Reduced Symptoms

Regular exercise can also help reduce symptoms associated with gastroparesis. This includes nausea, bloating, abdominal pain, and early satiety. By improving digestion and increasing gastric emptying, exercise can help alleviate these uncomfortable symptoms and improve overall quality of life.

Weight Management

Gastroparesis can often lead to weight loss or difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. Exercise can help with weight management by increasing muscle mass and boosting metabolism. It can also help regulate appetite and improve overall energy levels, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight.

Types of Exercise for Gastroparesis

Low-impact aerobic exercises

Low-impact aerobic exercises are a great option for individuals with gastroparesis as they are gentle on the stomach and do not put too much strain on the digestive system. These exercises can include walking, swimming, cycling, and using an elliptical machine. They help to improve blood flow and oxygen levels, which can aid in digestion and relieve symptoms of gastroparesis.

Strength training

Strength training exercises involve using resistance to build muscle and can be beneficial for individuals with gastroparesis. Building muscle can help improve digestion and reduce symptoms such as bloating and constipation. It is important to start with light weights and gradually increase as tolerated to avoid putting too much strain on the stomach.

Stretching and flexibility exercises

Stretching and flexibility exercises can help improve mobility and reduce muscle tension, which can be beneficial for individuals with gastroparesis. These exercises can include yoga, Pilates, and gentle stretching. They can also help improve posture and relieve discomfort in the abdominal area.

Yoga and Pilates

Yoga and Pilates are low-impact exercises that focus on breathing, stretching, and strengthening the body. They can be beneficial for individuals with gastroparesis as they can help improve digestion, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve overall well-being. It is important to consult with a certified instructor who can modify poses to accommodate any physical limitations or discomfort.

Tips for Exercising with Gastroparesis

Consult with a healthcare professional

Before starting any exercise routine, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional such as a pelvic floor physical therapist, especially if you have gastroparesis. Your healthcare professional can provide personalized recommendations and guidelines based on your specific condition and medical history. They can also help you determine the best types of exercises to do and any modifications that may be necessary.

Start slow and gradually increase intensity

When it comes to exercising with gastroparesis, it is important to start slow and gradually increase the intensity of your workouts. This allows your body to adjust and prevents any sudden strain on your digestive system. Begin with low-impact exercises such as walking or gentle yoga, and slowly add in more challenging activities as your body becomes stronger.

Listen to your body

It is crucial to listen to your body when exercising with gastroparesis. If you experience any discomfort or pain, it is important to stop and take a break. Pushing through the pain can worsen your symptoms and potentially lead to complications. Pay attention to your body's signals and adjust your workout accordingly.

Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated is essential for anyone, but it is especially important for those with gastroparesis. Dehydration can worsen symptoms and make it more difficult to exercise. Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workouts. If you have trouble drinking large amounts of water at once, try sipping on it throughout the day.

Consider dietary changes

In addition to exercise, making dietary changes can also help manage gastroparesis symptoms. This may include eating smaller, more frequent meals, avoiding high-fat and high-fiber foods, and incorporating more easily digestible foods into your diet. Consult with a registered dietitian for personalized recommendations.


Recap of the Benefits of Exercise for Gastroparesis

Throughout this article, we have discussed the numerous benefits of exercise for individuals with gastroparesis. From improving digestion and reducing symptoms to promoting overall physical and mental well-being, exercise has proven to be a valuable tool in managing this condition.

Encouragement to Incorporate Exercise into Treatment Plan

If you have been diagnosed with gastroparesis, it is important to work closely with your healthcare team to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. While medication and dietary changes are often the main focus, incorporating exercise into your routine can greatly enhance the effectiveness of these treatments. Don't be afraid to discuss exercise options with your PFPT and find a plan that works for you.

If you are experiencing gastroparesis, please reach out to us at Pelvic Health Center in Madison, NJ to set up an evaluation and treatment! Feel free to call us at 908-443-9880 or email us at

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