Back when I was in massage school, I was totally uncomfortable working on the abdominals and having my abdominals worked on. Just like most people, I was sensitive about another person touching my stomach. Likewise, It was totally weird touching my partner's stomach. The lesson we were taught that day was massaging the stomach for digestive problems. Needless to say, after massage school I still barely worked on abdominals unless a client needed the work for digestive reasons.
As a baby massage therapist with less than a couple of years of experience, I performed abdominal massage only upon request. Besides the digestive benefit & assessment I learned from school, what was the point of working in this area? Well as I increased my massage education and experience over the years, I've learned how important this area really is when it comes to bodywork.
So lets start off with why Abdominal massage is good for the digestive system, particularly constipation. The massage therapist can actually access and palpate the large intestine (your colon), when working over the stomach. A clockwise massage over the large intestine area in the stomach can actually bring constipation relief. This is especially helpful for those that suffer chronic constipation. Better yet, this is a massage anyone can perform on themselves if they know what to do. You can learn more by watching the video below.
The more I worked with athletes, the more aware I became of a muscle called the iliopsoas. This muscle is actually a combination of two muscles called the psoas and the iliacus deep to your abdominal muscles and is commonly referred to as the psoas ("so-as") muscle. Why is this muscle so important? Well it is the strongest and most powerful hip flexor of the body which is important for standing, walking, and running. When this muscle is contracted or shortened, it can make getting up from a seated position difficult, and it can be painful to stand, walk, or run. Here is visual of this marvelous muscle:
One of the top reasons for hip & low back pain is because the psoas muscles can get tight and angry. I used to believe that low back pain came primarily from the quads (also hip flexors), gluteus muscles (your butt), and the low back region itself. But with experience, I have learned that if tight psoas muscles are not addressed, the low back pain may not go away. Since this muscle can be a large source of pain & discomfort, I slowly became more comfortable working in my clients abdominals.
As a massage therapist, I also work with the fascia (connective tissue) in the body. When there is dysfunction in superficial or deep layers of fascia, it sends signals to the brain that the area is tight or in pain. Because we flex (bend forward) so much, it is more likely that we can experience dysfunction in the fascia of the abdominals. When this happens, you could feel pain in the abdominals while bending, consistent deep hip pain, loss of range in hip movement, and pelvic/groin pain. Luckily specific massage techniques can help alleviate pain caused by this abdominal fascia.
How would I massage the Abdominals? I can work on the stomach over the sheet, or if you are comfortable enough, undraped. Of course for females, breasts will be covered by a towel while the abdomen is undraped. Whether you get a massage on my table or by another massage therapist, abdominal massage should never feel painful. Compression in this area should be light at first, and slow gradual pressure for any painful area that needs to get worked on. An assessment of your condition will determine what areas of the stomach I'll focus on most (ie: pelvic floor, psoas).
If you've never had your stomach massaged, you should try it the next time you get a professional massage. It can also feel pretty amazing in a relaxing full body massage. Worried about your body image? All massage therapists have worked on clients 90 to 400+ pounds, while still bringing relief for pain symptoms. I've had great results with clients who are under/overweight. Besides, when you're on my table, this is all I see
I'll also never work the abdominals without your consent. It is a sensitive area, and my goal is to make sure you are comfortable. Do you have chronic digestive issues? Hip, movement, or low back problems? This may be the massage you need.