by Becca Ironside, PT
As pelvic floor practitioners who treat a variety of disorders of the digestive tract, we are proud to participate in retraining of the sensation of the bowel with a unique type of therapy. Rectal balloons have long been used in the past by gastroenterologists for diagnostic purposes to observe how patients attempt to void stool from the sphincters of the anus. More recently, pelvic floor physical therapists have been using rectal balloon catheters to aid in treating constipation by providing contact against the bowel wall. This stimulates the sensors which leads to better coordination of the pelvic floor muscles and ultimately, improved passage of stool without straining or discomfort.
Here is how it works: The patient lies on their side and the PT inserts a deflated lubricated balloon into the rectum. The PT then begins to pump small amounts of air into the balloon to inflate it. This mimics the sensation of having a full bowel and “needing to go” for the patient. Small sensors which line the bowel walls are being trained with the presence of the expanding balloon that it is time to void; this unique sensation is historically ignored or suppressed by the brains of people with chronic constipation. Yet with the use of rectal balloon training, such people are afforded the opportunity to show their colons who is truly in charge of having healthy, soft and regular bowel movements (their own brains are!).
The use of rectal balloons might sound weird and like the stuff of science fiction. But once patients experience this treatment in the relaxing and supportive environment of a pelvic floor clinic, they often discover how they might have been contributing to their own unconscious tension which leads to a lifetime of constipation. Rectal balloon therapy has also proven to be effective for the management of people with chronic diarrhea and poor stool quality. In short, it is a wonderful adjunct to a balanced pelvic floor treatment plan aimed at improving bowel health. If you have bowel concerns, please ask us at Connect PT about rectal balloon training.
Barthelemy, Anne1; Shifferd, Jennifer1; Erickson, Kim1 Balloon Training for Bowel Dysfunctions, Journal of Women's Health Physical Therapy: Spring 2009 - Volume 33 - Issue 1 - p 18