What is the Purpose of the Ileocecal Valve?
The intention of this blog is to support your learning about this valve, give you some self management ideas and promote not only good bowel health but also general wellbeing.
I learnt about this valve in my medical and naturopathic studies but it wasn’t until I had an issue with it did I really pay attention to its role in my body and believe me when it is unhappy it will often let you know in a strong manner of the symptoms you may experience.
So, what is the ileocecal? It is a sphincter muscle (remember that your inner and outer sphincters in the sigmoid region of your bowel and the anal one). It opens and closes thereby allowing predigested food matter to move from the small to large intestine. It holds onto the contents of your small intestine for the time required for your body’s digestive process to be completed. This time delay also allows the foods nutrients to be readily absorbed by your body. Important because no matter how well you eat if you are not absorbing all your nutrients your health may be compromised.
This super bit of anatomy (think already how it is like a guard making sure only what gets through is what should) is located very near your appendix, in the lower right quadrant of your abdomen. It is right at the end of your ileum where it joins to your caecum.
To locate follow these directions:
On the right side of your body
Around 4 fingers below your navel and 4 fingers to your right side
If you feel your pelvic bone you have gone to far for it is inside your pelvic bone
So, if everything is going okay with your digestion and elimination then your ileocecal valve just continues its job as it is meant to. It acts as a one-way valve and does not allow waste materials to flow back into the small intestine. It remains in the closed position most of the time. It opens briefly to allow the transfer of the small intestine contents to the large intestine.
Unfortunately, if it malfunctions and the sphincter muscle remains either open or closed can result in a plethora of symptoms some of which cause short term discomfort and others if the valve isn’t treated into potentially real health issues. Bowel disorders such as diarrhoea, constipation, bad breath, bloating, severe nausea (related to the strain on your liver), reports of vague symptoms such as right side pelvic pain, right shoulder tip pain, lower back pain. The symptoms can often seem unrelated or vague like another body part is causing them. This type of disorder with the valve has been called the great ‘mimicker’.
If the valve is open and stuck in this position, there can be a direct back flow of faecal material back into the ileum. The very specific large intestine bacteria may cause health challenges as it goes into the small intestine that has its own specific species of bacteria. In the open position diarrhoea may occur, which can be severe in nature and lead to dehydration. If the valve is not opening as it should be to pass contents through, constipation, which can be severe will occur.
The valve can go into spasm, that is quickly opening then closing then opening then closing which if occurs results in intense abdominal distress and inflammation of the valve. Generally, chiropractors who often diagnosis this disorder will note a person with an open positioned valve will feel better staying still, their symptoms worsening on movement. The opposite symptoms for a person with a closed valve occurs.
So, what can we do to help prevent valve issues? Something Sue tells me a lot!
Chewing my food better makes sense as large pieces of undigested food could either block the valve (constipation) or force it into the open position (diarrhoea and back flow)
Eat in a relaxed manner (remember our mindful eating blog) this will support your digestive processes.
Watch what you eat, if you consume foods that are unhealthy and cause general inflammation in your body, the valve will also be affected adversely.
If you have some right sided pain or change in bowel habits firstly ensure your appendix is okay, (with appendix issues you often guard the area and may have a fever) and then approach your health care practitioner for some advice and treatment.
Ileocecal Valve Massage
This type of massage can be used as a self care technique in your quest for good bowel health and general wellbeing.
Diarrhoea/ constipation and flu like symptoms may be related to the valve being open or in spasm.
- You can hold the open valve shut for several to 5 minutes by placing one of your hands
over the valve area and exert gentle but firm and consistent pressure in an inward push motion pulling up in the direction of the left shoulder
- Another way to locate the valve is to place your left thumb on your navel. Using your right thumb on your right hip you then visualize a line that joins these two points and find the middle of the line. Place all your fingers around 4-5 cm below that middle of the line and you should be right on or near the valve.
- Another technique whether the valve is open or closed, is lie down with your knees bent or raised and then with all your fingers, press in a gentle but firm pressure and isolate the area particularly tender. Use your fingers in a pressing release manner (palpate) to really find the valve. It has been described as feeling like a golf ball under a pillow (your body fat/ muscle) so in leaner people it is usually easier to find and even see some distension
- Now in a circular way massage area, exerting medium pressure, I like to use something like coconut oil to reduce any massage friction
- Many practitioners instruct their clients to do some reflexology to help relieve acute symptoms. With this technique, you bend your right arm at the elbow region and then using your left fist you stimulate your bicep muscle. You need to apply a brisk sped and medium pressure to the area to initiate the reflex point with is neutrally and energetically connected to the ileocecal valve. At least 10-20 seconds need s to be done to the reflex zone
- These techniques are used pre-meals or when experiencing acute or chronic symptoms
Have a practice while not having any symptoms of valve disorder so if it does occur you can be prepared and confident in your ability to close the valve.