Bowel dysfunction is a normal and expected side effect of abdominal surgery with cancer, gastric, colon, small bowel, pancreatic and liver surgeries. However it is one of the most difficult part of recovery from these types of surgeries. The problem can last as long as three to five days in patients. Patients who spent time rocking in a rocking chair resumed bowel activity more quickly than patients who did not, which meant they felt better sooner and recovered faster. Rocking chair therapy has been used for easing lower back pain, constipation, arthritis, C-sections and abdominal hysterectomy pain.
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 that involved 66 patients, 34 of whom were instructed to rock in a rocking chair for periods of between 10 to 20 minutes for a total of at least one hour a day, and to walk, adding more time each day as tolerated. They were compared with 32 others who walked but did not rock in a rocking chair.
The results: Those in the rocking group first passed gas which is a post-op healing benchmark, 16.8 hours earlier than the other group. Dr. Massey said that 16.8 hours doesn’t sound like a lot but it is a long time if you are experiencing postoperative nausea, vomiting, abdominal distention and inability to eat. There is also evidence that these typical side effects from surgery may impact recovery in a way that can negatively affect your quality of life much later– so rocking chair therapy may have long-term health benefits as well.
Rocking in a rocking chair does use some abdominal muscles, but Dr. Massey’s patients said it did not seem to increase abdominal pain. Dr. Massey believe the positive results from rocking are due to stimulation of the vestibular nerves in the ear, which in turn, send signals to the reticular activating system (RAS), which is the source of the fight-or-flight reaction that plays a pivotal role in bodily and behavioral alertness. Bowel dysfunction associated with abdominal surgery is thought to be a response to the stress of surgery. Rocking modulates this response and mobilizes the digestive system.
Some orthopedic surgeons recommend rocking to help patients recover from knee surgery. It seems to also help Alzheimer, dementia, ADHD, autism and sensory disorders in patients. Rocking has also been used for chronic fatigue, stroke and heart attack victims. It has been found helpful for varicose veins. Dr. Massey is planning to investigate whether the use of rocking therapy will help surgical patients avoid post-op- deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a potentially serious and sometimes lethal situation that creates clots that can go to the lungs. Dr. Massey thinks the rocking that involves flexing and relaxing muscles in the lower legs, may enhance compression stockings effectiveness.
Rocking can be helpful for everyday complaints such as the common cold, insomnia and some forms of constipation, although Dr. Massey feels that there is a need for further research to learn more. He believes that patients will be seeing lots more rocking chairs in high-tech medical centers in the future.
Note: I grew up with rocking chairs. They were an important part of my life. My Grandparents each had individual rocking chairs that they relaxed in after a days work. We had a rocking chair in the kitchen that invited individuals to sit and rock as they waited for meals to cook, or visitors to “visit” while we worked in the kitchen. Rocking was an essential part of my life as a parent and as a grandparent. I rocked as I nursed my children, soothed them to sleep, comforted a hurt, read books together, or discussed a school project. I love to rock as I watch sun rises and sun sets. It helps me unwind after 16 hour work days. It’s always nice to know that from childhood into my senior years, I have consistently done something “healthy” so ROCK ON and enjoy the benefits.
Dr. Janeel Henderson