How Does Your Posture Affect IBS Symptoms?

If you have IBS, then you are likely to seize on anything that might help relieve your symptoms. You are probably keeping a food diary, trying to better manage stress, but did you know your posture and sleeping position can also affect your IBS symptoms?

How posture and body position affect your gut

Eastern medicine has long held that your posture and body position may affect how your gut operates. In one study of healthy adults, researchers demonstrated that gas transit is faster in the upright position than when lying on one's back, contrary to what many patients believe.¹ However, this was only significant for the first sixty minutes and may or may not reflect the reality of life for people with IBS.

So, lying down in the hope of feeling better is not scientifically supported, but if it works for you, then, by all means, keep doing it.

Another issue, though, is how poor posture affects your digestion. Slouching after a meal can cause heartburn and slow down the passage of food through your intestines, increasing constipation.² Similarly, poor posture while on the toilet can also promote constipation. When sitting on the toilet, try to keep your knees higher than your hips and avoid hunching over. 

Sleep position and IBS

Are your symptoms always worse in the morning? Do they keep waking you up? If so, you are likely sleeping in the wrong position. Sleeping on your back or left side can alleviate IBS symptoms by putting your gut in a better position to adequately digest food and do its job.

Sleeping on the right side, on the other hand, can make IBS symptoms worse. Bear in mind that you should avoid sleeping on your back if you have sleep apnea³, which is often comorbid with IBS. Avoid sleeping on your stomach, which compresses your organs and can make your bloating worse.

Curling up tightly can also make symptoms worse by slowing the expulsion of gas. While it can be difficult to train yourself to sleep in a different position, it might be worth trying if you wake up miserable every morning. Try starting on your left side at least for a while because this puts your gut in a position favorable to passing gas. Consider using a firm pillow between your knees to improve your side sleeping position and help keep you on your side.

How to improve your posture

If you are a habitual sloucher, it can be hard to get out of the habit. You may need to talk to a physical therapist, who can give you exercises to help you stand and sit straighter. A few other tips include:

  • Get a better office chair.⁴ Make sure it supports your back and encourages you to sit upright. Also, make sure your chair is at the correct height. If your feet are not on the floor, you will compensate by bringing your shoulders forward. Or use a footstool.

  • Do some of your work at a standing desk if possible.

  • Take frequent breaks from sitting. Sitting for extended periods worsens posture and has other health issues.

  • Adjust your seat and steering wheel properly when driving so that your back can stay in its natural position and you aren't stretching for the pedals.

  • Do exercises to correct your posture.⁵

  • Avoid wearing heels.

  • Consider taking up yoga, as many poses are designed to help improve posture and balance.

Good posture can alleviate your IBS symptoms and also help keep your spine healthy and your core strong. However, it is only one part of a lifestyle to manage your IBS.

Talk to your doctor about whether your posture might be contributing to your symptoms and ask for a referral to a physical therapist who can help you train yourself to sit and stand correctly. Even if it doesn't help your IBS, it can help your overall health.

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