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IBS Stomach Pain Relief

Strategies for Soothing Abdominal Pain

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Updated July 10, 2014

Woman relaxing on chair with a cup of tea
Heidi Coppock-Beard/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Abdominal pain is a defining symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and if you are experiencing this severe stomach pain, you certainly will be looking for some relief. It is not yet clear what causes this pain, known as visceral hypersensitivity, although research is being done regarding the role of inflammation and the brain-gut connection. What is very clear is that IBS can hurt! Here are some things you can do to help to ease the pain from IBS.

Close the Pain Gate

We tend to think of pain as a clear-cut phenomenon in which pain radiates directly from a part of the body that is injured or diseased. However, there is overwhelming evidence that the experience of pain is not that simple. Two individuals with the same degree of injury often report widely different pain ratings. To explain this, researchers have developed what is known as the gate theory of pain. This theory looks at the factors that “open the gate” or enhance the sensation of pain, versus factors that close the gate and decrease the sensation of pain. Psychological factors, particularly anxiety and a heightened state of physical arousal, can serve to increase the pain experience.

As you can see, it is easy for a Catch-22 situation to develop. If you are in pain, it is understandable that you might become more anxious and focused on your body. This state of physiological arousal thus enhances the pain, which serves to you more anxious, and the cycle continues. The gate control theory enables you to move away from being a passive victim of pain as you become aware that you can actively work to gently close the pain gate.

Use Relaxation Exercises

Regular use of relaxation exercises has a calming effect on many of your body’s systems. More importantly, regular practice of relaxation skills allows you to use the tools effectively in times of emergency, such as when you are experiencing acute abdominal pain. Remember that the active calming of your body will help close the pain gate and reduce the experienced intensity of your pain. The following “How To” articles will teach you these valuable skills.

Use your Imagination

The mind is a powerful thing. Harness its helpful energy through the use of healing imagery. After you have calmed your body with relaxation exercises, stimulate your imagination and conjure up some magical, soothing pain relievers. It might sound a little out there, but research supports guided imagery as a powerful method for promoting health and healing. Here are some possibilities, but feel free to let your imagination soar:
  • Imagine a white healing light coming into your body and swirling around your abdomen, healing and soothing your aggravated intestinal tract.
  • Imagine that the pain is a hard ball of wax that is slowly melting as you envision a warm, healing heat spreading through the area.
  • Imagine that a soft, healing balm is making its way through your colon, serving to cool, soothe and calm the inflamed tissue.

For more ideas, see "Guided Imagery for IBS Pain Relief".

Use a Heating Pad

From a purely psychological point of view, a heating pad can be so soothing. You can also find reassurance from the fact that research supports the use of low-level continuous heat as a way to speed up pain relief. If your budget allows, look into newer wearable heating pads. If you choose to use a traditional heating pad, remember to always protect your skin with clothing as direct contact with a heating pad can cause a burn.

Sip a Cup of Herbal Tea

Like a heating pad, there is something soothing about a nice cup of tea. Each of the following types of tea have a reputation for soothing digestive distress. Keep your pantry well-stocked so you'll have some handy when your IBS acts up.
  • Peppermint tea
  • Chamomile tea
  • Anise tea
  • Fennel tea

For more information, see Four Best Herbal Teas for IBS

Essential Reading from Dr. Bolen, Your IBS Guide:

Sources:

Gatchel, R. & Turk, D. “Psychological Approaches to Pain Management” (1996) The Guilford Press: New York.

Jaffe, D. & Bresler, D. “The Use of Guided Imagery as an Adjunct to Medical Diagnosis and Treatment” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 1980 20:46-53.

O’Connor, A. & McCarberg, B. “ A New Look at Heat Treatment for Pain Disorders, Part 2” American Pain Society Bulletin 2005 15.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed physician. It is essential that you discuss with your doctor any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.

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