Bowel management

Bowel management

It can be one of your most distressing and embarrassing concerns if you have a spinal cord injury: how can I manage the loss of control over my bowel?

Usually, you won’t be able to feel when your bowel is ready to empty when you have a spinal cord injury. This is because the brain doesn’t communicate with your bowel properly anymore.

So you need a plan and routine for how you’ll manage your bowel movements. This can help you feel more confident and ease your concerns.

People with spinal cord injuries have told us that being bowel incontinent is the biggest problem in their lives. It affects their confidence to leave the house, especially if they need more support with their routine. We can help by discussing options for bowel management

Debbie Green, our spinal cord injury nurse specialist

Bowel diary

To find a bowel management plan that works best for you, your healthcare professional may ask you to keep a record of your bowel movements for a few weeks. It should include when you emptied your bowels, what methods you used to do so and how the stool looked. Diet, drinking lots of fluids and exercise are essential for avoiding constipation.



For a non-disabled person, stools take around 31.5 hours to pass through the colon. For people with spinal cord injuries, the average time is 86.6 hours, which leads to a high risk of constipation

Regular bowel movements

You’ll need to empty your bowel regularly to avoid infections, constipation and accidents.

There are a few methods you can use to stimulate your bowel:

  •  gently messaging your abdomen
  • inserting a lubricated gloved finger into your rectum and slowly rotating it to see if any stools come out with it. You may be able to do this yourself or can direct someone, like a carer, to help you
  •  taking oral laxative medication
  •  inserting a suppository, a small object with medication inside it, into your rectum


A colostomy can be life-changing. It’s when you have surgery to reroute your large intestine so that it empties on the outside of your stomach into a bag. People may choose to have a colostomy if it becomes difficult to manage their bowel care routine. It can help you become more independent and ease worry about accidents.

If you’d like to consider this option, talk to your GP who can refer you to a surgeon. You can also discuss it with one of our nurse specialists.

More information

— Go to the bladder and bowel community website for information on bowel-related problems

Get a RADAR key to access locked public toilets.

Need support?

We understand that adapting to managing your bowel movements can be tough on your self-esteem and mental health. If you need to speak to someone about this, or any other issues that concern you, click the button below to speak to one of our counsellors.