What is Digestive Motility?

Digestive motility refers to the movement of food and liquid from the mouth through the esophagus to the stomach, then the intestines, and finally out of the body as waste. This occurs when muscles and nerves work together to create wave-like contractions in the gut called peristalsis. Any abnormality that affects the muscles or nerves in the digestive system can interrupt this delicate progression and cause serious problems.

Symptoms of motility disorders may include:

  • Difficulty swallowing 
  • Heartburn
  • Gagging
  • Unexplained chest pain
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Aspiration
  • Constipation
  • Pneumonia
  • Diarrhea
  • Chronic cough
  • Fecal incontinence

Advanced Diagnostics

Getting an accurate diagnosis is the first step toward improving life for children with motility issues. CHKD is one of the few hospitals in the nation to offer state-of-the-art high resolution three-dimensional (3-D) manometry studies, which can measure muscle pressure in different areas of the digestive system, from the esophagus to the anus.

Some children with motility disorders have complex medical needs and/or conditions such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome or muscular dystrophy. CHKD’s motility team has extensive experience working with children of every age and developmental level and coordinating care with specialists from other disciplines so patients, parents and the extended medical team can all be working on the same goals.

Conditions we diagnose and treat include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Achalasia
  • Gastroparesis
  • Anorectal malformations 
  • Intestinal pseudo-obstruction
  • Dysphagia
  • Intractable constipation
  • Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease


Treatment depends upon the nature and location of the disorder. In some cases, we manage symptoms with medications such as pyloric and anal botox. Other conditions, such as fecal incontinence, respond well to biofeedback training. In rare cases, surgery may be required.

At CHKD, patients benefit from the comprehensive range of medical and support services available only at a freestanding children’s hospital. Our team will work with patients and families to make children comfortable, ease fears and help them understand conditions and treatments.