What is neurogenic bowel?

What is neurogenic bowel?

Loss of control of the bowels is referred to as fecal incontinence.  There are many causes of fecal incontinence but one reason is when there is damage or an injury to the neurological system.  Neurogenic bowel is the term used when there is a loss of control of the bowel as a result of damage to the nerves. When the nerves are damaged, messages are unable to arrive to the sphincter or brain like they are supposed to. Those with neurogenic bowel may not ever feel the urge to go to the bathroom.  Depending on the cause, neurogenic bowel can result in the sphincter musculature being spastic or flaccid. It is important to know the difference because the type of bowel program needed will depend on the muscle tone of the sphincter.

central nervous system control of the digestive system

Bowel programs

There are two types of bowel programs.  If someone has had an upper motor neuron injury, the sphincter is spastic.  For this reason, often times a bowel program consists of a suppository and digital stimulation.  If someone has a lower motor neuron injury, the sphincter is flaccid.  If the sphincter is flaccid, a suppository and digital stimulation is not recommended.  Instead, patients are instructed to do a manual evacuation and/or the Valsalva maneuver.

For those interesting in learning more about neurogenic bowel, download our patient guide here.


Jeffrey Despommier, OTR, OMS, CUA, ATP


About the author – Jeffrey is an occupational therapist with over 15 years of rehabilitation experience. He is board certified as a urologic associate and ostomy management specialist.  He also specializes in complex rehab technology and is board certified as an assistive technology professional.

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