Pooping is a natural and essential bodily function. Everyone poops, regardless of your location, socioeconomic status, or delicate sensitivities. Unfortunately, something that is meant to be second nature can also sometimes be very difficult. So if you’ve ever found yourself pooping, you’re definitely not alone.
« Almost everyone experiences the feeling of having difficulty having a bowel movement », Alex Sherman MDgraduate gastroenterologist Cutting-edge gastroenterology and clinical professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicinesays SELF.
While this information won’t exactly make you feel any better when you’re stuck on the toilet, it should reassure you that forcing yourself to poop isn’t necessarily a concern. In fact, if it happens once in a while, you’re probably fine, and things can often be fixed with something as simple as increasing the fiber in your diet.
But if you frequently strain to poo, it could potentially signal an underlying problem that needs your attention, Dr. Sherman says. Want to know why it hurts to poop and what to do about it? We turned to the best docs for the answers to all your poop questions.
First, let’s talk about why you’re bothering to poop.
« Someone sits down and tries to push, push, push – that’s really what effort is, » Felice Schnoll-Sussman, MDProfessor of Clinical Medicine and Director of Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health at Weill Cornell Medicinesays SELF.
People can struggle to poop for all sorts of reasons, but constipation is really the biggest cause. By definition, symptoms of constipation include passing hard, dry stools, having less than three bowel movements a week, or feeling like you haven’t really passed everything (if you know what we mean). according to National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
It’s important to understand that people poop at different frequencies, so pooping less than three times a week doesn’t always mean you’re constipated. For example, a person can poop twice a week for as long as they can remember and feel perfectly fine. « There’s no rule on how often someone should go to the bathroom, » says Dr. Schnoll-Sussman. « The only time we are concerned is when there is a significant change for you. » If you’re frustrated because it seems impossible to poop and nothing comes out, that’s also a problem.
So what causes constipation? A number of things, but dietary habits contribute greatly to this particular problem, Shilpa Ravella, MDassistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, says SELF. “I see a lot of patients who have too little fiber in their diet. This can lead to hard stools and constipation, which can cause people to strain a lot when going to the bathroom,” says Dr. Ravella.
That’s why treatment for constipation usually includes eating foods that are higher in fiber, which adds weight to your stool and helps it stay soft, making it easier to pass. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
According to Dr. Ravella, certain medications, including blood pressure medications, opioids, antacids, and antidepressants, can also cause constipation. And finally, constipation can be a symptom of certain medical conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and celiac disease.
Your body mechanics could also explain why you’re straining to poop. There are two sphincter muscles in the rectum (the internal sphincter and the external sphincter) that facilitate bowel movements1. The internal sphincter is controlled involuntarily, which means your brain tells this muscle that it’s time to relax (so you can poop) when your rectum is full. Your external sphincter is a muscle that you consciously control. And some people may not have good control over the external sphincter, so they tense their muscles, holding the poo in when they really should be relaxing that muscle to let the poo out.2. It can make you feel like you’ve never really emptied everything in your bowels.