Rocking Chairs Help Post Surgical Constipation

Signaature rocking chair by Gary Weeks at

I recently wrote a post in praise of physical medicine.  Here is a physical home remedy that can make a major difference in recovering from surgery.

After all kinds of abdominal surgery, cesarean sections, or prostate surgery. constipation can be a painful and debilitating side effect, resulting in vomiting, nausea, abdominal bloating, lack of appetite and general discomfort.  It can last for a week or more, although it should resolve in a few days. Many patients consider it more troublesome than the surgery itself and it occasionally requires re-hospitalization to deal with the bowels.  The bowel dysfunction most likely results from the stress of surgery rather than physical impairment, but having the side effects can have long term consequences.

Dr. Robert Massey, PhD  RN, director of clinical nursing at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas conducted a study with 66 patients who were recovering from abdominal surgery.  He observed that the 34 patients who rocked in rocking chairs for 10 or 20 minutes experienced an earlier return of bowel function than those who only walked.  Massey’s study used the rocking chair intervention in both male and female cancer patients recovering from surgeries for abdominal cancers, as well as from gastric, colon, small bowel, pancreatic or liver surgeries. Those in the rocking group first passed gas which is a post-op healing benchmark, 16.8 hours earlier than the other group. 16.8 hours less pain is a considerable benefit and allowed overall healing to be accelerated.

Massey believes the positive results are due to the way rocking stimulates the vestibular nerves in the ear that, in turn, send signals to the reticular activating system (RAS).  The RAS is the source of the fight-or-flight stress reaction that plays a major role in bodily and behavioral alertness.  It seems that rocking modulates the stress response and mobilizes the digestive system.

Rocking therapy can be very inexpensive.  Folding canvas chairs or beach chair rockers can be obtained for under $35.  It is safe, and without the side effects that can plague strong laxatives.

Rocking is good for other conditions.  President John F. Kennedy famously used a high back rocker to relieve his back pain.   Research in women recovering from C-section and abdominal hysterectomy demonstrated earlier resolution of bowel dysfunction in those who rocked in a rocking chair than in those who received other treatments.  In a pilot study of men and women over 55 who often suffer from lower blood pressure and low blood return to the brain, 30 min of steady rocking led to an average 12 mmHg increase in systolic blood pressure and a 3.6 average increase in diastolic blood pressure.   Patients with Alzheimer’s disease who rock for 1-2 hr per day in a rocking chair demonstrate significant improvements in depression, anxiety, and balance and a decrease in pain medication usage. Premature infants will have their respiratory systems entrained by being rocked in a rocking chair.Rocking  is even used for children who stutter, probably helping by the distracting rhythm working on vestibular function.


Influence of seated rocking on blood pressure in the elderly: a pilot clinical study.

Entrainment of respiration to rocking in premature infants: coherence analysis
Rocking chair therapy for beginning stuttering.

First rocking chair image from

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