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Is Your Spinal Cord Injury Causing A Bloated Stomach?

spinal cord injury bloated stomach

Is it normal to have a bloated stomach after spinal cord injury?

Stomach bloating occurs when there’s gas or water retention in the body.  

It’s an uncomfortable sensation that can make you feel heavy and about to burst.

There are a few reasons why you may experience more frequent bloating after spinal cord injury.

This article will explain how SCI can contribute to stomach bloating and go over ways to manage it.

What Causes a Bloated Stomach After Spinal Cord Injury?

There are plenty of factors that can cause your stomach to bloat more than usual after a spinal cord injury.

SCIs disrupt communication between your brain and body, which can require significant lifestyle changes due to difficulties moving and feeling.

Some spinal cord injury-related factors that can cause a bloated stomach include:

  • Bowel and Bladder Dysfunction. After a spinal cord injury, people may not be able to feel when their bladders or bowels need to be emptied. Additionally, due to lack of muscle control, they might experience difficulties pushing their stool out. This can cause constipation and back up the large intestine, which results in bloating.
  • Impaired Diaphragm Function. An injury at the upper levels of the spinal cord can affect innervation of the diaphragm. Diaphragm contractions push down on the abdominal cavity, which can increase pressure and contribute to the sensation of bloating.
  • Physical Inactivity. An SCI can leave someone wheelchair-bound, which limits their mobility. Lack of physical activity can reduce blood pressure, circulation, and metabolic rate. This can dramatically slow down digestion.  
  • Diet. In addition to reduced physical activity, consuming a diet high in sodium or carbs can cause water retention. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and kale are very difficult for the body to digest, which can also cause gas and bloating.
  • Stress. Your mental health can play a huge role in the state of your body. High-stress levels increase the release of a hormone called cortisol, which makes you feel hungry. This can cause you to eat more, causing not only bloating of the stomach but also weight gain.

How to Get Rid of a Bloated Stomach After Spinal Cord Injury

So now that you know what can cause a bloated stomach after spinal cord injury, let’s go over a few changes you can incorporate into your daily routine to promote healthy digestion and reduce water retention and gas.

1) Increase Physical Activity

why do i have bloated stomach after spinal cord injury


Try to move around as often as possible. When you move around frequently, your circulation and metabolic rate increases, which can promote digestion and bowel movements.

Another way to get rid of excess water in your system is to sweat it out. If you can, try to incorporate some aerobic exercise into your schedule.

Individuals with very restricted mobility can practice passive range of motion exercises with a caregiver to loosen joints and promote blood flow.

2) Drink More Water

It might sound counterintuitive but drinking more water will not only increase the fluidity of your bowel movements, but it will also remind your body that it does not need to store excess water.

When you’re not drinking enough water, the body will store it because it is unsure when its supply will be replenished.

3) Adjust Your Diet

Because limited mobility can cause your digestion to slow, it may be a good idea to be more conscious of your diet.

Try to reduce your sodium and carb intake to reduce water retention.

While high-fiber foods are ideal for adding bulk to your stool and promoting bowel movements, they can also contribute to abdominal bloating.

Suddenly consuming lots of fiber can cause digestion problems. Start small and gradually increase fiber intake over time so that your body can get accustomed to digesting it.

4) Follow a Bowel Management Program

A bowel management program will help you keep track of your bowel patterns.

By following a schedule, you’ll ensure regular bowel emptying and avoid blockage that can cause bloating.

Because many SCI patients cannot control muscle contractions in this area, they may need to take medications or require manual stimulation.

Spinal Cord Injury and Stomach Bloating

If bloating does not subside, consult with a doctor. While mild bloating after a meal is completely normal, bloating that does not go away or causes pain can be indicative of a more serious problem.

Hopefully, this article helped you understand why you may be experiencing more frequent stomach bloating after spinal cord injury and what you can do to manage it.

Good luck!

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