What Is Splinting—And Can It Help Constipation?

"When in doubt, thumb it out."

Many people scroll social media while sitting on the toilet. If you've been constipated, you know how long it can take for something, anything, to happen. Well, talk about good timing if you are lucky enough to happen across one viral video about splinting as a cure for constipation.

In 2021, a TikTok user, Ambria Alice Walter-Field (@ambriaalicewalterfield), posted a video asking people to share a reason why they are happy to have a vagina. Ambria went first, saying, "You know when you're struggling to go for a 'P-O-O' and you just"—Ambria then makes a hook motion with their thumb—"and then it's fine."

Some commenters said they do that too. But others had questions about what Ambria was talking about and needed answers. And so, the next day, Ambria posted a second video to give more details. Complete with a *pop* sound effect, Ambria explained, "When you're constipated, and your poop is there but you can't quite push it out—it's like turtling—just put your thumb in your vagina. You can feel the poop and you can just pop it out."

"Can't wait for the next time I'm constipated so I can try this," one user commented. "When in doubt, thumb it out," someone else wrote.

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The video has had millions of views, including by someone who said they were a labor and delivery nurse: "I do this for my patient when the hubby isn't looking so that it doesn't happen when he is looking," the user commented.

Turns out, there's an official medical name for this trick: splinting. Here's what to know about it—and whether it's a good idea for you to try it if you're feeling backed up.

What Is Splinting?

According to Eman A. Elkadry, MD, who specializes in urogynecology at Mount Auburn Hospital in Massachusetts and teaches at Harvard Medical School, "splinting involves supporting the perineum—the area externally between the rectum and vagina—or the back wall of the vagina to assist in having a bowel movement."

Sometimes, splinting is needed in cases of pelvic organ prolapse. A prolapse is when a body part drops from its normal position.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women's Health, "pelvic organ prolapse happens when the muscles and tissues supporting the pelvic organs (the uterus, bladder, or rectum) become weak or loose. This allows one or more of the pelvic organs to drop or press into or out of the vagina." With a pelvic organ prolapse, stool can become caught in a "pocket," or pouch, which can make evacuation of the stool difficult.

Splinting in instances of prolapse would involve pushing back on the prolapse of the vagina so that the stool can pass.

Essentially, splinting redirects the bowel movement so that you can more easily pass stool. Dr. Elkadry said that splinting can also be used in instances of prolapse that interferes with peeing—but this is less common.

Should You Try Splinting?

"If you have fairly normal bowel movements or occasional constipation, there is no need to splint," Dr. Elkadry said to Health.

Before you have a go at splinting, first try adjusting your diet and pooping position:

  • A high-fiber diet (at least 30 grams of fiber a day, Dr. Elkadry said) can make your stool a consistency that's easier to pass. Add the fiber gradually, though, to avoid bloating or feeling gassy or crampy.
  • As for your position on the toilet, sitting with your legs elevated, like on a Squatty Potty, can also make bowel movements easier. (After all, squatting is how humans used to go to the bathroom.)

But if those first steps don't work, splinting might be a thing to try. "It is worse to consistently strain to evacuate," Dr. Elkadry said to Health. And that's especially true for females with prolapse. For these individuals, splinting is preferred over prolonged pushing because chronic prolonged straining can actually worsen prolapse and stretch tissue even further.

And splinting is pretty effective. In 2012, Dr. Elkadry and some of their colleagues did a small study published in the journal Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery. The study found that splinting helped all but one of the 29 individuals who were in the study.

Still, having to splint can be uncomfortable (the poster of the viral TikTok also made a video that included guidance on how to splint) and can be hard to do in public or anywhere outside your home.

"If the problem is severe or bothersome, then seek the advice of a specialist, as there are both noninvasive as well as surgical solutions to aid pelvic support," Dr. Elkadry said. "There are also pelvic floor physical therapists who can help improve pelvic muscle function during evacuation." Your primary healthcare provider can be a great place to start for next steps and recommendations of specialists if needed.

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