Bladder management

Bladder management

A spinal cord injury can affect the level of control you have over your bladder. This is because messages no longer pass between the bladder muscles and the brain.

It may feel worrying and embarrassing to think about the way your injury has affected how you urinate. But, with the right support, you can gain as much control over your bladder as possible, which is important for your self-esteem and avoiding infections.

Below are some options for emptying your bladder. Finding the best method for you will help bladder management become part of your normal routine.


People with a spinal cord injury tend to speak openly, frankly and honestly about using a catheter as it’s such a normal part of life.

A catheter is a flexible tube that’s used to empty the bladder and collect urine in a drainage bag. It’s usually inserted into the bladder through the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of your body .

The three main types of catheter are:

  • an indwelling urethral catheter, which is held in place by a water-filled balloon to stop it falling out. You may have this type when you first have your injury
  • an intermittent catheter is inserted into your bladder every few hours to drain it. This can be done yourself or if you’re unable someone else can be taught to do this for you
  • a suprapubic catheter is inserted through a hole in your tummy (abdomen) into your bladder. This procedure can be done under general, epidural or local anaesthetic

The right catheter for you will depend on a few things, including your hand function, gender and how often you get urine infections. Talk to your GP about getting assessed by a urologist for the right catheter. Or contact one of our specialist nurses who can discuss your options with you.

Getting bladder management right for someone with a spinal cord injury is really important. Often it’s a case of trial and error but there will be a right method for you

Debbie Green, our spinal cord injury nurse specialist

Sheaths or condoms – for men

A urinary sheath or condom is applied to the penis and attached by a plastic tube to a collecting bag. This is strapped to your leg or belly, or hung beside your bed or wheelchair.

Electrical stimulation of sacral nerves

Electrical stimulation of sacral nerves can be used to restore emptying of the bladder and bowel for some spinal cord injured people, removing the need for catheterisation. This life-changing technique is known as sacral anterior root stimulation, or the Brindley procedure.

We were recently involved in a webinar on this topic with the International Functional Electrical Stimulation Society (IFFS).  If you would like to understand more about this technique, a recording of the webinar is available to view online.  The presentation is aimed at the whole SCI community and you don’t need prior knowledge of electrical stimulation or a scientific background to relate to the content. Just click below to find out more and watch the recording.


More information

Go to the bladder and bowel community website which provides information and support for all types of bladder and bowel-related problems. You’ll also get a free RADAR key to access disabled toilets when you sign up to SIA Healthcare.

Need support?

We understand that adapting to managing your bladder can be tough on your self-esteem and mental health. Whether you need practical advice and information or need to speak to someone about your mental health and well-being we have services available to support you.  In the first instance contact our SCI nurses for support and information.