Constipation is a common problem with a number of causes, including your diet, stress, illness, and some medications. It can be very uncomfortable and lead to pain in your stomach and pelvic area.
There are many ways to treat and prevent constipation. One method is using your fingers to manually remove the stool from your rectum. This is sometimes called digital disimpaction or manual elimination.
Using your fingers to remove stool can be helpful when you’re not getting relief from other relief techniques. But there are safety risks to manual elimination, so it’s not a good idea to use this method frequently.
Read on to learn how you can do this safely, what risk may be involved, and other tips for relieving constipation.
First, you’ll need the following items:
- disposable plastic, rubber, or latex gloves to remove the stool with your finger
- lubricant, such as a body-safe oil or a commercial lubricant
Test your supplies first
Test the lubricant and the gloves that you decide to use on a patch of skin to make sure you don’t have an allergic reaction before using it to remove stool.
Your skin around your anus and rectum are delicate and sensitive. Allergic symptoms like rash or itching can be very uncomfortable.
Once you have the supplies you need, follow these steps to carefully remove stool with your finger:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
- Sit on a toilet, raised toilet seat, or shower chair.
- Put on a fresh, unused glove that hasn’t been exposed to ambient air for too long. You can use two layers of gloves for better protection in case one glove breaks.
- Coat one of your fingers with the lubricant.
- Slowly insert your coated finger into your rectum.
- Try to break up the stool in a scissoring motion. This prevents stool from being pushed inward, and makes the stool easier to remove in small pieces.
- Move your finger in gentle circles for about 60 seconds.
- See if any stool releases. Repeat step 7 a few times until you feel stool release.
- Move your finger in a gentle scooping motion within your rectum to remove any remaining stool that may not have come out of your rectum.
- Remove your soiled gloves and place them in a waste bag (recycle a paper or plastic bag) for disposal. Do not touch anything else before throwing the gloves away — fecal bacteria is infectious.
- Wash your rectal area and hands thoroughly with warm water and a gentle soap.
This method should only be used rarely. Don’t rely on removing stool with your fingers as a way to relieve constipation.
When removing stool with your fingers, don’t:
- use an uncovered finger
- use gloves that aren’t clean
- insert a finger without lubrication
- move too fast
- force the stool
It’s important to be gentle and work slowly when you’re removing stool with your finger.
Removing stool with your fingers can easily cause tears in your rectum or spread stool to other areas if not done carefully. Going too fast or not using caution can lead to infection and injury.
You may also want to clip your fingernails so that a long nail doesn’t accidentally tear any skin in your rectum.
Don’t keep your finger in your rectum for too long. If the method isn’t working to remove stool, try another method or call a doctor as soon as you can. Don’t attempt this method on your own more than once.
There are some risks associated with removing stool with your fingers.
Use caution and avoid using this method too often to help reduce these risks. Some risks are still possible even when being cautious, such as:
- pushing stool further into your rectum
- damage to the soft tissue around your anus
- anal tears and bleeding
- infection of nearby areas including your urethra, vagina, or penis
- spreading fecal bacteria to other surfaces, such as your face, mouth, or other household objects
Rare complication for people with heart conditions
A 2016 case report showed that while very rare, removing stool with fingers can be fatal. This has been reported in people with pre-existing heart conditions or who were taking medications that affect heart function.
To help avoid this risk, do not attempt to remove stool with your fingers if you have a heart condition.
There are many methods of managing constipation. It’s recommended that you try other methods before attempting to remove stool with your fingers.
Constipation can often be relieved with hydration, exercise, and a nutritious diet. Try fruits such as apples, pears, kiwis, prunes, and dried apricots to help ease along your natural digestion process.
If natural methods aren’t successful, you can try a mild over-the-counter laxative or suppository.
Some people also have success using their hands to stimulate the digestive system or muscles in their rectum without inserting a finger. These methods are much safer than removing stool with your fingers. This can be done by messaging one of the following areas:
- the stomach
- the area between the urethra and rectum
- the area around the rectum
- the inside of the vaginal cavity
Preventing constipation can help you avoid having to remove stool with your fingers. Here are some methods to prevent constipation include:
- Drink plenty of water (at least 64 ounces per day, depending on your lifestyle).
- Eat high fiber foods such as whole grains, beans, and other foods that can help encourage natural digestion.
- Eat whole, natural fruits and vegetables to get necessary vitamins and nutrients.
- Have meals at the same time each day to encourage regular bowel movements.
- Avoid heavy or rich foods, such as cheese or other dairy products, that can reduce bowel movements.
- Stay active, getting about 15 to 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day.
- Reduce stress that can result in irregular bowel movements.
- Avoid holding in stool — try to pass stool as soon as you feel the urge.
It’s not safe or recommended to remove stool with your fingers frequently. This method should always be a last resort, not a regular practice.
Tell a doctor if you’ve been experiencing constipation and have needed to use manual evacuation or any other relief method, including laxatives — especially if you’ve felt the need to use any of these frequently.
A doctor will go over your symptoms and check for any conditions or medications that could be causing your constipation. They’ll help you come up with a plan to manage your constipation without using your fingers to remove stool.
Some possible changes to help you manage constipation can include:
- increasing your fiber intake
- switching medications
- taking a prescription stool softener or laxative
- attending physical therapy
Seek care right away if you’re experiencing constipation along with:
- intense stomach pain
- stomach pain that doesn’t go away
- blood in your stool
Removing stool with your fingers is a method of relieving constipation.
There is a significant risk of infection and rectal tears when using this method. It should not be used regularly or as a first resort. When you do need to use this method, it’s important to be gentle and use clean supplies.
Talk with a doctor if you’ve been experiencing constipation. They can help you prevent constipation with other, less risky treatments and avoid having to remove stool with your fingers.