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What happens when you massage your belly?

Belly massage provides many benefits for digestion, relaxation, and overall health and wellness. By stimulating the abdominal muscles and organs, massage can relieve constipation, bloating, and gas while also encouraging healthy digestion. Additionally, the soothing touch brings pain relief and eases anxiety. Understanding what happens inside when you massage your belly will help you maximize the advantages.

Improves Digestion

One of the main benefits of belly massage is improved digestion. The abdomen houses many of the organs involved in breaking down food and eliminating waste, such as the stomach, small intestine, colon, liver, and pancreas. Massage helps stimulate these organs and keep things moving smoothly through the digestive tract. This can relieve symptoms like:

  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Excess gas
  • Stomach pain or cramps
  • Heartburn
  • Acid reflux
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

When you massage the abdomen, it activates the vagus nerve, which runs from the brainstem down to the colon. The vagus nerve controls digestion by telling the gastrointestinal muscles when to contract and move food and waste along. Massage therapy also increases blood circulation in the abdomen, providing more oxygen and nutrients to aid digestion.

Relieves Constipation

One of the most common digestive complaints massage can help treat is constipation. When waste gets backed up in the colon and you struggle to have regular bowel movements, belly massage can help get things moving again. Using massage strokes in a clockwise direction follows the path of the colon, gently stimulating the muscles to push stool through. This activates peristalsis, the wave-like muscular contractions of the intestine that keep digested food advancing.

Eases Bloating

Abdominal massage techniques like kneading and circular motions can also provide relief when you’re feeling bloated. Bloating occurs when excess gas gets trapped in the gastrointestinal tract, often from swallowing too much air while eating or drinking. The massage movements help break up gas bubbles, allowing the gas to pass more easily. This provides a flatter, less distended belly.

Releases Tension

Along with aiding your digestive system, massaging your abdomen also helps you relax. The soothing touch brings both physical and mental tension relief by:

  • Increasing blood flow to the skin and muscles
  • Lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Releasing endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers

Many people carry anxiety in their bellies without even realizing it. If you suffer from chronic stress, you may notice your abdomen feels knotted and tender to the touch. Slowly massaging the area can enable the muscles to unwind and loosen up. As you breathe deeply, the calming sensations begin to extend throughout your whole body.

Eases Menstrual Cramps

For those with a uterus, massaging the lower abdomen and back can help alleviate menstrual cramps. These muscle contractions are triggered by compounds called prostaglandins that are released when the uterus sheds its lining each month. Applying pressure to the area eases the cramping sensation and enables deeper relaxation.

Reduces Headaches

Interestingly, massaging your abdomen may also reduce the intensity and frequency of headaches, including tension headaches and migraines. Researchers believe that activating vagus nerve stimulation through massage disrupts pain signals to the brain. The rise in serotonin and decrease in CGRP, a peptide linked to migraine pain, can also prevent headaches.

Techniques to Try

You can perform belly massage while lying down, standing, or sitting upright. Use an oil or lotion to help your hands glide smoothly across the skin. Some of the most common massage techniques to incorporate include:

Technique Method
Kneading Grasp the belly and alternate squeezing and releasing.
Skin rolling Gently pinch the skin and roll it between your fingers and thumbs.
Effleurage Make long, soothing strokes across the abdomen with your palms.
Clockwise circles Trace large, clockwise circles around the belly button.
Counter-clockwise circles Trace large counter-clockwise circles around the sides of the abdomen.

Aim to massage for at least 10-15 minutes daily to stimulate digestion. You can focus on the entire abdominal area or target specific parts like the lower abdomen to ease menstrual cramps. Apply light to medium pressure, adjusting as needed for comfort.

Self-Massage Tips

When massaging your own belly:

  • Draw your knees up to relax your abdominal muscles.
  • Breathe deeply into your diaphragm throughout the massage.
  • Avoid massaging directly after eating.
  • Use a pillow or cushion under your head if lying down.
  • Press gently to avoid irritating any tender areas.


Belly massage offers many benefits, but take these precautions:

  • Avoid massage if you have a fever, flu, infections, or abdominal injuries.
  • Be gentle around surgical scars or hernias.
  • Don’t massage if you have severe diarrhea or abdominal pain of unknown cause.
  • See your doctor if massage worsens symptoms or causes severe discomfort.
  • Have a professional prenatal massage therapist perform the techniques if you are pregnant.

Other Complementary Therapies

While abdominal massage can aid digestion, relieve pain, and reduce stress, other therapies can enhance the effects:


Inhaling essential oils or diluting and applying them topically during massage introduces their digestion-boosting properties. Peppermint oil relieves gas and bloating. Fennel, rosemary, ginger, and lavender soothe muscle spasms and pain. Use cautiously if you have sensitive skin.


Applying targeted pressure to reflex points on the feet that correspond to the abdomen and digestive organs can complement an abdominal massage. Reflexologists use specific thumb, finger, and hand reflexology techniques that fuel overall healing.


Alternating a heating pad or hot water bottle and an ice pack on the abdomen can stimulate blood flow to the digestive tract before or after massage. Sipping warm ginger or peppermint tea can also relax the stomach muscles.

When to See a Doctor

While extremely beneficial for many, abdominal massage is not a substitute for medical care. See your doctor promptly if you experience:

  • Persistent diarrhea lasting over 2 days
  • Rectal bleeding or black, tarry stools
  • Blood in vomit
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Abdominal pain that worsens or occurs with fever or vomiting
  • Chest, arm, or shoulder pain after eating
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Heartburn not relieved by antacids

Report any worrisome symptoms that start or persist after an abdominal massage. This may signal an underlying digestive disorder requiring medical treatment.

The Takeaway

Belly massage offers a safe, gentle way to stimulate your digestive system and unwind tight, tense abdominals. A few minutes per day can relieve constipation, gas, bloating, cramps, and stress. Slowly knead and stroke the area using oil or lotion. Stick to a light, comfortable pressure. Complement the massage by sipping herbal tea, using essential oils, or trying reflexology and hydrotherapy. While highly beneficial for many symptoms, persistent or worsening abdominal pain warrants a visit to your doctor.