Dyssynergic Defecation and Pelvic Floor Therapy for Constipation: What You Need to Know
Have you made changes to your diet but are still struggling to go? If so, you may have a condition called dyssynergic defecation. Dyssynergic defecation is a condition where your pelvic floor does not properly coordinate the nerves and muscles, making it difficult to have a bowel movement.
Luckily, pelvic floor therapy for constipation is an effective method of treating dyssynergic defecation. To learn more about dyssynergic defecation and pelvic floor therapy for constipation, read on.
What is Dyssynergic Defecation?
The pelvic floor is a complex system of nerves and muscles located at the lower part of the abdomen. It supports the pelvic organs such as the bowel, uterus, and bladder. One of its most important functions is helping us have regular bowel movements.
To encourage a bowel movement, the muscles and nerves of the pelvic floor must move in a coordinated manner. With dyssynergic defecation, there is a problem with how the muscles and nerves in the pelvic floor function, and they do not relax properly to allow a bowel movement. When stool isn’t passed regularly, it becomes hardened and can feel stuck in your bowels, making it more difficult to pass.
What are the Symptoms of Dyssynergic Defecation?
Symptoms of dyssynergic defecation are similar to those of severe constipation, and include:
- Having fewer than three bowel movements per week
- Excessive straining to have a bowel movement
- Feelings of incomplete evacuation (like there is still some stool left in the rectum after you have a bowel movement).
- Hard, painful stools
- The need to use your fingers to remove the stool
- Bloated stomach
- Stomach pain
- Anal pain
While it can feel embarrassing to discuss these symptoms with your healthcare provider, providing an honest report of your symptoms is important for helping receive a diagnosis and coming up with an effective treatment plan.
How Common is Dyssynergic Defecation?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, it’s estimated that 15% to 25% of all chronic constipation cases are caused by dyssynergic defecation. They also estimate that chronic constipation affects between 10% and 20% of people worldwide and is about twice as common in people assigned female at birth.
What Causes Dyssynergic Defecation?
In a study of 118 people with dyssynergic defecation, researchers found that about one-third of people developed it during childhood. Another one-third developed it after an event such as pregnancy, trauma, or back injury. As many as 40% of people with dyssynergic defecation developed it for unknown reasons.
Dyssynergic defecation is a functional bowel disorder, meaning that the exact cause is unknown.
How is Dyssynergic Defecation Diagnosed?
The first step in diagnosing dyssynergic defecation is excluding other underlying disorders. Slow passage of waste through the colon may exist in up to two-thirds of people with dyssynergic defecation, so a test to assess colonic transit can be beneficial.
Here are some other tests and procedures used to diagnose dyssynergic defecation:
Digital Rectal Examination
A digital rectal examination is a medical test during which your doctor will insert a gloved, lubricated finger into your rectum to check for any abnormalities.
During the test, you may be asked to “bear down” as if you’re trying to have a bowel movement. This will allow your doctor to feel how the muscles move. If the muscles are moving abnormally, it may indicate dyssynergic defecation.
An anorectal manometry test measures how well the rectum and anal sphincter work. During the test, a small, flexible tube called a catheter with a balloon on the end is inserted into the rectum through the anus.
As the balloon is gradually inflated, it mimics the feeling of stool in the rectum. A machine connected to the tube measures the contractions and relaxations of the rectum and anal sphincter. By assessing these contractions and relaxations, your doctor can determine whether there is a discoordination of your pelvic floor muscles.
Balloon Expulsion Test
During the balloon expulsion test, a small balloon filled with warm water is placed in the rectum. Once the balloon is placed, you will move to a private room and be asked to push the balloon out.
Normally, a person can push the balloon out of their rectum in under one minute. If someone has dyssynergic defecation, it will often take longer than one minute to push out the balloon.
During defecography, X-rays are used to record moving images of barium (a semi-solid paste) as it passes through the rectum. The barium simulates the passing of a soft stool, and the test can provide valuable information about structural changes that may be responsible for constipation.
Pelvic Floor Therapy for Constipation
Once you’ve received a diagnosis of dyssynergic defecation, it’s time to develop a treatment plan. The most common type of pelvic floor therapy for constipation is called biofeedback therapy or biofeedback training.
Biofeedback training teaches you how to properly engage and relax your pelvic floor muscles and is considered the best treatment for dyssynergic defecation. This technique, which can be completed by a trained pelvic floor physical therapist, is used to correct the coordination of the abdominal and pelvic muscles during evacuation and to improve the perception of stool in the rectum.
What to Expect During a Biofeedback Training Session
During a biofeedback training session, your pelvic floor physical therapist will insert a probe into your anal sphincter. They will then place sticky pads on your abdomen. This will allow them to detect the movement of the muscles as you simulate having a bowel movement.
As you simulate having a bowel movement, you will receive visual or verbal feedback about what the muscles in your abdominal wall and anal sphincter are doing during a bowel movement. The pelvic floor physical therapist will have you do breathing exercises and muscle strengthening and relaxation exercises. This is what retrains the movement and coordination of your pelvic floor muscles.
According to research, the best protocol for biofeedback therapy includes doing 30–60-minute sessions one to two weeks apart for four to six sessions. After this protocol is completed, reinforcement sessions should be completed at six weeks, three months, six months, and twelve months.
How to Find a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist
The best way to find a pelvic floor physical therapist is to get a referral from another healthcare provider (such as your dietitian or family doctor) or by doing a Google search yourself.
Here are a few tips that can help you find a pelvic floor physical therapist:
- Search “pelvic floor physical therapist near me” to find therapists in your area.
- Look at prospective clinics’ websites. This will often answer commonly asked questions, explain what to expect at your first visit, and provide information about the therapist’s credentials and experience.
- If you have questions that are not answered by the clinic’s website, reach out to the clinic by phone or email. They should be able to put you in touch with a therapist who can answer your questions.
- Find out if pelvic floor physical therapy is covered by your insurance provider.
- Don’t be afraid to “shop around.” Pelvic floor physical therapy is intimate care, and it’s important that you find a provider that makes you feel comfortable.
Dyssynergic defecation is a common cause of chronic constipation. Luckily, pelvic floor therapy for constipation is an effective treatment.
If you’re struggling with constipation, it’s important to ensure other modifiable factors are well-managed in conjunction with using pelvic floor therapy as a treatment. This includes getting enough fluid and fiber through your diet. If you’re struggling to make dietary changes to manage chronic constipation, a registered dietitian can help.
At Blue Tree Nutrition, our dietitian has experience working with dietary treatments for constipation and can also help you connect with a pelvic floor therapist. Click here to get in touch and book an appointment today.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist - CDN, RDN
My name is Valerie Polley. I am a Indianapolis-based registered dietitian and owner of Blue Tree Nutrition. I consult with clients both local and far away.
I have a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Purdue University and I have been practicing for 20 years.
I thoroughly enjoy helping clients through their gut health journey. I see a range of GI issues including, but not limited to celiac disease, IBS and SIBO. I also specialize in the FODMAP elimination diet.
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