Managing Gastroparesis: The Role of Massage and Physical Therapy

By Dr. Zarina Vitebsky, DPT, MSPT, PRPC, TPS, LPF, DN on 1/12/2024

Image of a Pelvic Floor Patient Being Treated for Gastroparesis


Explanation of Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis is a condition in which the muscles in the stomach do not function properly, leading to delayed emptying of food from the stomach into the small intestine. This can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, bloating, and abdominal pain.

Role of Pelvic Floor in Digestion

The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that support the organs in the pelvis, including the bladder, uterus, and rectum. These muscles also play a role in digestion by helping to control bowel movements and supporting the organs involved in digestion.

Introduction to Massage and Physical Therapy for Gastroparesis

Massage and physical therapy can be beneficial for individuals with gastroparesis by helping to improve the function of the pelvic floor muscles and promoting better digestion. Massage can help to relax tight muscles and improve blood flow, while physical therapy can provide exercises to strengthen and improve coordination of the pelvic floor muscles.

Importance of Seeking Professional Help

It is important to seek professional help from a licensed physical therapist who has experience working with individuals with gastroparesis. They can provide personalized treatment plans and ensure that techniques are performed safely and effectively.

Understanding Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis can be caused by damage to the vagus nerve, which controls the movement of food through the digestive tract, or by damage to the stomach muscles themselves. Some common causes of gastroparesis include diabetes, surgery on the stomach or esophagus, and certain medications.

Symptoms and Complications

The most common symptom of gastroparesis is feeling full quickly after eating, even if you have only eaten a small amount of food. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, bloating, and abdominal pain. If left untreated, gastroparesis can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, and other complications such as bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Diagnosis of gastroparesis may involve a physical exam, blood tests, and imaging tests such as an upper endoscopy or gastric emptying study. Treatment options for gastroparesis include dietary changes, medications to help stimulate stomach emptying, and in severe cases, surgery. Pelvic floor physical therapy, including massage, may also be recommended as a treatment option.

Impact on Daily Life and Quality of Life

Gastroparesis can have a significant impact on daily life and quality of life. The symptoms of gastroparesis can make it difficult to eat and enjoy meals, leading to weight loss and malnutrition. It can also cause discomfort and pain, making it challenging to engage in daily activities. The condition can also have a psychological impact, causing anxiety and depression. Seeking treatment and managing symptoms can greatly improve daily life and overall quality of life for those with gastroparesis.

The Pelvic Floor and Digestion

Anatomy and Function of the Pelvic Floor

The pelvic floor is a group of muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue that forms a sling-like structure at the bottom of the pelvis. It supports the pelvic organs, including the bladder, uterus, and rectum, and plays a crucial role in controlling bowel and bladder function. The muscles of the pelvic floor are responsible for maintaining continence, allowing for voluntary control of urination and bowel movements.

Connection to Digestion and Bowel Movements

The pelvic floor muscles work in coordination with the muscles of the digestive system to facilitate proper digestion and bowel movements. When the pelvic floor muscles are weak or dysfunctional, it can lead to difficulties with bowel movements, such as constipation or diarrhea. Additionally, the pelvic floor muscles help to maintain the proper position of the pelvic organs, which can affect digestion and bowel movements if they become displaced or weakened.

How Gastroparesis Affects the Pelvic Floor

Gastroparesis is a condition in which the stomach takes longer than normal to empty its contents into the small intestine. This delay in gastric emptying can cause a variety of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. The pelvic floor muscles may become tense or overactive in response to these symptoms, leading to pelvic floor dysfunction. This can further exacerbate digestive issues and contribute to pelvic pain and discomfort.

Importance of Pelvic Floor Health in Managing Gastroparesis

Maintaining a healthy pelvic floor is essential for managing gastroparesis. Strengthening and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles can help to improve digestion and bowel movements, reduce pelvic pain, and alleviate symptoms of gastroparesis. Pelvic floor physical therapy, including massage, can be an effective treatment option for individuals with gastroparesis, as it can help to improve muscle function and coordination in the pelvic floor.

Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy for Gastroparesis

What is Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy?

Pelvic floor physical therapy is a specialized form of physical therapy that focuses on the muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues in the pelvic region. This includes the muscles of the pelvic floor, which play a crucial role in supporting the organs in the pelvis and controlling bowel and bladder function.

Goals and Objectives of Therapy for Gastroparesis

The primary goal of pelvic floor physical therapy for gastroparesis is to improve the function of the pelvic floor muscles. This can help to alleviate symptoms such as constipation, bloating, and abdominal pain. The therapy also aims to improve the coordination and strength of the pelvic floor muscles, which can help to improve digestion and reduce symptoms of gastroparesis.

Techniques and Exercises Used

Pelvic floor physical therapy for gastroparesis may include a variety of techniques and exercises, such as pelvic floor muscle training, biofeedback, and manual therapy. Pelvic floor muscle training involves specific exercises to strengthen and coordinate the pelvic floor muscles. Biofeedback uses sensors to provide visual or auditory feedback to help patients learn how to relax and contract their pelvic floor muscles. Manual therapy may include techniques such as massage, stretching, and trigger point release to help relax and release tension in the pelvic floor muscles.

Frequency and Duration of Therapy Sessions

The frequency and duration of pelvic floor physical therapy sessions for gastroparesis may vary depending on the individual's needs and goals. Typically, patients will attend therapy sessions once or twice a week for several weeks. The duration of each session may range from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the techniques and exercises being used. The therapist will work with the patient to develop a personalized treatment plan and may adjust the frequency and duration of sessions as needed.

Incorporating Massage and Physical Therapy into Treatment Plan

Importance of a Comprehensive Treatment Plan for Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis is a complex condition that requires a comprehensive treatment plan in order to effectively manage symptoms and improve quality of life. This condition affects the muscles in the stomach, causing delayed emptying and resulting in symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. While medications and dietary changes are often the first line of treatment, incorporating massage and physical therapy into the treatment plan can provide additional benefits.

How Physical Therapy Can Complement Other Treatments

Physical therapy massage can help to relax tense muscles in the abdomen, which can improve digestion and reduce symptoms of gastroparesis. It can also help to improve circulation and reduce inflammation, which can be beneficial for those with this condition. Pelvic floor physical therapy can help to strengthen the muscles in the pelvic floor and improve overall muscle function in the abdomen. This can lead to improved digestion and reduced symptoms of gastroparesis.

Tips for Finding a Qualified Physical Therapist

When incorporating massage and physical therapy into your treatment plan for gastroparesis, it is important to find qualified professionals who have experience working with this condition. Seek out therapists who have experience with pelvic floor rehabilitation and have a good understanding of gastroparesis. It may also be helpful to ask for recommendations from your doctor or other healthcare providers.

Consider incorporating self-massage techniques and at-home exercises into your routine. You can ask your therapist for exercises and stretches to do at home in between sessions. Additionally, consider telehealth options for virtual sessions if in-person appointments are not feasible.

Reach Out to Us

If you are experiencing pelvic floor dysfunctions associated with the issues above, 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

Read More: