Colonic motility subserves large bowel functions, including absorption, storage, propulsion and defaecation. Colonic motor dysfunction remains the leading hypothesis to explain symptom generation in chronic constipation, a heterogeneous condition which is extremely prevalent in the general population, and has huge socioeconomic impact and individual suffering. Physiological testing plays a crucial role in patient management, as it is now accepted that symptom-based assessment, although important, is unsatisfactory as the sole means of directing therapy. Colonic manometry provides a direct method for studying motor activities of the large bowel, and this review provides a contemporary understanding of how this technique has enhanced our knowledge of normal colonic motor physiology, as well as helping to elucidate pathophysiological mechanisms underlying constipation. Methodological approaches, including available catheter types, placement technique and recording protocols, are covered, along with a detailed description of recorded colonic motor activities. This review also critically examines the role of colonic manometry in current clinical practice, and how manometric assessment may aid diagnosis, classification and guide therapeutic intervention in the constipated individual. Most importantly, this review considers both adult and paediatric patients. Limitations of the procedure and a look to the future are also addressed.