Physiotherapy may help to effectively relieve the discomfort associated with constipation in children, a new study claims.

Research carried out at Maastricht University in the Netherlands suggests that physiotherapists could play a key role in helping young children to go to the toilet more comfortably, highlighting the wide variety of health problems that physiotherapy can help to treat and potentially cure.

The study involved a series of consultations with the parents of children who suffered with frequent constipation to find out if their diets contained enough fibre-rich foods, whether they had been prescribed laxatives in the past and if the toddlers had irrational fears associated with going to the bathroom.

After each of these factors had been taken into account, half of the child participants took part in physiotherapy sessions designed to teach them about the correct posture to adopt while sitting on the toilet and which muscles to contract or relax to make their bowel movements easier and more comfortable.

The strength of the children's pelvic floor muscles was tested at the start of the therapy programme and again after the physio treatment had been carried out, with results showing that the majority of participants were significantly less constipated following the course of physiotherapy.

Lead author of the study Marieke van Engelenburg-van Lonkhuyzen commented: "While most people associated muscles with strength, they do more than assist in lifting heavy objects.

"Effective, voluntary and involuntary, contraction and relaxation must be present when passing urine or faeces on the toilet to avoid dysfunctional voiding or constipation."

Jennifer Verrill Schurman of the University of Missouri reflected on the findings of the study, stating she believes physiotherapy exercises focusing on the pelvic floor could indeed be an effective way of relieving persistent constipation in young children.

However, she emphasized that physio treatment would likely only be necessary if the issues had been apparent for six months or more and were causing serious distress.

Written by Mathew Horton