Stomach Noise and the Relaxation Response


Borborygmus (plural borborygmi) also known as stomach growling, or rumbling, is the rumbling sound produced by the movement of gas through the intestines of animals, including humans. ;(from Wikipedia)

A number of years ago, as I lay on an acupuncture table, my stomach started to rumble. It happened 10-15 minutes into the session and I did what I think many of us do in a similar situation: I apologized for the untimely noises that my stomach was making. The acupuncturist, who was also a nurse, put me at ease. First she told me that in Eastern Medicine, such sounds are considered a compliment. In Western Medicine, such sounds are known as borborygmus. I think many of us can relate to my experience, both as a practitioner, who hears the sounds begin a while after a client lies on our table, as well as the person who experiences borborygmus. I loved this concept, as well as the word borborygmus.

It is well established that during the fight or flight response there is an inhibition in stomach and upper digestive tract action. Essentially, all energy is sent to the parts of the body needed most for action; for fight or flight. When the stressor is gone stomach motility, as well as other functions, resume. With humans, the fight or flight response played a stronger role earlier in our evolution. The need to respond/react to attacks, as well as to attack, were often daily occurrences. As we moved into modern times the emergency responses that require huge amounts of physical effort and our need for full-fledged fight or flight responses lessened, but the tendency for our bodies to act (or over react) continued. The stress response halts or slows down various processes such as sexual responses and digestive systems in order to focus on the stress situation, typically causes negative effects like, constipation, anorexia, erectile dysfunction, difficulty urinating, and difficulty maintaining sexual arousal. Prolonged exposure to stress responses can cause a chronic suppression of immune system function.

I believe that many are walking around each day in a partial or full state of fight or flight. Clients arrive at my office after fighting traffic, fearing of being late for their appointment, bad news on the radio, etc. It is only after they have softened into the treatment table and the work begins that they come down from the perceived stressors of the outside world. Good hands-on manual care can allow the feeling of threat and stress to diminish. It is then that their digestion restarts. It is then that the borborygmus kicks in.

So encourage your clients to appreciate the relaxation that treatment can bring, rather than worry about the noise.

Copyright Walt Fritz, PT 2009-2010

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  1. I have read the above with much interest because I am a victim of chronic peptic ulcers. Most of the article covers what I am feeling now. Rumbling, constipation, too much smelly gas, slow sex responses sometimes none, sometimes can’t sustain desires. Was treated wth tripple therapy but I have started feeling the same again. Own my on prescription I am taking charcoal. I am always in pain which intencifies together with rumbling after meals. Good t reatment here is very difficult to access. I would you to advise me on what to do in order to lessen or eradicate my suffering. Thanking you in advance.

    • The post you read was intended for information on how the relaxation response effects digestion and not as recommendations for treating specific disorders. This would be best sorted out by a gastrointestinal specialist.

      • Thank you for your advice. I have gone through abdominal scanning, barium meal and endoscopy and ended up with tripple therapy as treatment which eased the problem tempolarily. My hope was that I would get tips for home management. I appreciate your concern., thank you.