Regaining bladder control after spinal cord injury may or may not be possible depending on the severity of your injury.
To help you understand why individuals may lose bladder control after spinal cord injury, this article will explain what part of the spinal cord innervates the bladder and how to prevent accidents.
What Causes Loss of Bladder Control After Spinal Cord Injury?
The spinal cord is the pathway that transmits information between your brain and body.
After a spinal cord injury, signals from the body (like the ones that alert the brain when you need to empty your bladder) may not be able to reach the brain.
Similarly, brain signals may not be able to pass the site of injury. So even if you try to empty your bladder, your sphincter may not receive the signals to relax.
The reason why so many people lose control of their bladder functions after spinal cord injury is because the bladder is innervated by some of the lowest segments of the spinal cord (S2,3, and 4).
An SCI affects functions both at and below the level of injury. The more severe your spinal cord injury, the more functions will be affected.
Regaining Bladder Control After Spinal Shock
After a spinal cord injury, you may experience a temporary loss of reflexes below your level of injury called spinal shock.
This occurs because inflammation at the site of injury can cause swelling, which cuts off the spinal cord’s blood supply.
It can last anywhere from a few days to several months.
Once the spinal cord begins to stabilize itself, spinal shock will go away and functions like bladder control may gradually start to return.
It isn’t until after spinal shock is over that spinal cord injury patients have a better understanding of what functions are and are not affected by their SCIs.
Is Regaining Bladder After Spinal Cord Injury Possible?
Every spinal cord injury is unique, but as long as your spinal cord injury is not completely severed through, recovery is possible.
Neuroplasticity is the central nervous system’s ability to rewire itself, and the best way to promote it is through massed practice.
The more you practice a weak skill, the more neural rewiring and strengthening occur.
Neuroplasticity has its limits, so the more spared neural pathways you have, the better your chances of regaining functions are.
Functions can spontaneously return, so be patient and don’t give up!
Bladder Management After Spinal Cord Injury
Managing loss of bladder control requires lots of caution and timeliness.
You need to regularly empty your bladder to prevent accidents and other common complications like urinary tract infections, stones, and renal impairment.
Management of bladder dysfunction after SCI can consist of:
Catheterization is the most common form of bladder management after SCI.
A catheter is a narrow tube that drains urine from your bladder.
There are two main types of catheterization. Depending on your lifestyle, you can choose between:
- Intermittent catheterization requires using a catheter every 4-6 hours to empty the bladder. If you prefer not to be connected to a catheter all the time, this method is ideal.
- Indwelling catheterization is when a catheter is connected at all times. This can be favorable for those who don’t want to constantly stick to a schedule and watch their fluid intake throughout the day.
Other Methods for Managing Loss of Bladder Control After SCI
Alternative options for bladder management after spinal cord injury include:
- Electrical stimulation (when an implanted electrode array stimulates the spinal cord to excite electrons below the level of injury and promote functional activity)
- Anticholinergic medications (medications that relax your bladder muscles to release urine)
- Bladder augmentation surgery (surgery to enlarge your bladder so that you can go longer without needing to empty it)
- Botox injections (to temporarily relax contracted bladder muscles)
Learning how to manage bladder problems after spinal cord injury is crucial for adjusting back to everyday life.
While bladder control may not return right away, it is possible to regain the function with the right interventions.
Featured image: ©iStock.com/DragonImages