Hear the word “massage” and your mind probably goes to getting one on your back or your feet… but abdominal massage is the underrated treatment that more people should be incorporating on the reg.
“Abdominal massage is actually a subset of regular or Swedish massage or Western massage,” says Daryl Thuroff, LAc, LMT, acupuncturist, herbalist, and massage therapist at Yinova Center. “There are certain aspects of Thai or Shiatsu massages that also have abdominal work in them, and that can be helpful for a variety of different things.”
Trained practitioners such as Thuroff use abdominal massage for three main things, she says: promoting digestion, increasing fertility, and helping with musculoskeletal issues. “It can also be used as a diagnostic tool,” she explains. In acupuncture, she says practitioners massage and feel the organs within the abdominal cavity to look for areas of tension, and to find out if something is “excess or deficient.”
That’s because a lot happens in the belly—it’s where your gut is located, which is central to so many other aspects of your health. “Inevitably, when the belly is stuck, it could lead to inflammation in other areas, water retention, cloudiness of mind… a lot can be happening concurrently,” says Thuroff. “Stress is something that can cause things to get stuck in the middle,” she adds. Basically, you want everything in your abdominal area flowing properly so that you can function at your best—which is where abdominal massage comes in.
“Ab massage moves energy in the body, so it keeps that person healing,” says Thuroff. You can do it in a few different ways, and she notes that a lot of it depends on the direction in which you’re using the strokes along with how much pressure you apply. “Also, what temperature control is—whether you’re using hot or cold,” she says.
Techniques also vary depending on what outcome is desired. “When I do fertility-based massage, for example, I’ll also incorporate acupressure points in the area of the abdomen that are correlating to others,” says Thuroff. “Or if you have musculoskeletal issues, like problems with your shoulder, I would do some work specific to the muscles in the abdominal cavity for overall relaxation in the body so help with that imbalance.”
You can do abdominal massage all on your own to help with gut issues, BTW. “If you do self massage, it’ll be working along with the flow of the digestive system,” says Thuroff. (Read: Move your hands clockwise.) “If you’re doing something for constipation or to keep the digestive system moving properly, do some round rubbing. Take your hand and rub in a clockwise fashion around the belly and end in the lower left portion.” You might not even need to do the full-on massage to see relief: “It might be as easy as putting your warm hands on your abdomen in certain areas, which helps bring warmth and movement, and sometimes that’s enough,” Thuroff says.
If you’re dealing with more chronic digestive issues (or are interested in using abdominal massage for fertility or muscular issues), Thuroff says it’s best to see a professional. “If it’s something very specific, it’s a good idea to work with a licensed professional,” she says. Other than that, though, it’s surprisingly helpful to rub your own tummy for the sake of a happier gut.