HomeIntroduction To Spinal Cord InjuryBowel ManagementAbout bowels after spinal cord injury

5.1. About bowels after spinal cord injury

What is the bowel?
The bowel is the last portion of your digestive tract and is sometimes called the large intestine or colon. The digestive tract as a whole is a hollow tube that extends from the mouth to the anus.

What does the bowel do?

The function of the digestive system is to take food into the body and to get rid of waste. The bowel is where waste products are stored until they are emptied from the body in the form of a bowel movement (stool, feces). A bowel movement happens when the rectum (last portion of the bowel) becomes full of stool and the muscle around the anus (anal sphincter) opens.

After Spinal Cord Injury
After a spinal cord injury, damage can occur to the nerves that allow a person to control bowel movements. If the spinal cord injury is above the T-12 level, the ability to feel when the rectum is full may be lost. The anal sphincter muscle remains tight, however, and bowel movements will occur on a reflex basis. This means that when the rectum is full, the defecation reflex will occur, emptying the bowel. This is known as a reflex bowel A reflex bowel can be managed by having the defecation reflex occur at a socially appropriate time and place. A spinal cord injury below the T-12 level may damage the defecation reflex and relax the anal sphincter muscle. This is known as a flaccid bowel. Management of this type of bowel problem may require more frequent attempts to empty the bowel and bearing down or manual removal of stool. Both types of neurogenic bowel can be managed successfully to prevent unplanned bowel movements and other bowel problems such as constipation, diarrhea and impaction.

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