Dietary management of neurogenic bowel in adults with spinal cord injury: an integrative review of literature

Disabil Rehabil. 2021 May;43(9):1208-1219. doi: 10.1080/09638288.2019.1652702. Epub 2019 Aug 15.


Objective: To examine the literature for current evidence on the dietary management of neurogenic bowel in adults with spinal cord injuries (SCIs).

Background: Neurogenic bowel dysfunction presenting as faecal incontinence or constipation is a common occurrence in individuals with SCI. It poses numerous challenges for the management of bowel function and has a significant impact on quality of life following SCI. Dietary management is a common, early treatment strategy as a conservative approach for neurogenic bowel; however, current recommendations rely on expert opinion only.

Methods: An integrative review of the literature using a systematic search was conducted using Medline, Embase, CINAHL, Proquest, and Google Scholar. The selected articles were critically appraised using Critical Appraisal Skills Programme checklists by two independent reviewers. The risk of bias of studies and the quality of evidence for outcomes were assessed using the risk of bias tool and the grading of recommendations, assessment, development, and evaluation system in the Cochrane handbook for systematic review of interventions.

Results: Thirteen studies that met the inclusion criteria were identified exploring a variety of diet-related factors: foods, dietary behaviours, and multiple interventions including a diet plan. However, the dietary management strategies used varied significantly between studies, posing challenges to ascertain its efficacy.

Conclusion: Given the low level of evidence and paucity of data on dietary management of neurogenic bowel, the efficacy of dietary strategies (alone or in combination with others) in managing neurogenic bowel cannot be substantiated from the studies identified. Therefore, more robust studies are warranted to bridge this gap.IMPLICATIONS FOR REHABILITATIONConsumption of ∼15 g dietary fibre is shown to be beneficial in managing neurogenic bowel in SCI.Further research is required to strengthen evidence for fibre recommendations and investigating the potential benefits of traditional and non-traditional dietary approaches.

Keywords: Spinal cord injury; constipation; diet; faecal incontinence; neurogenic bowel.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Constipation / etiology
  • Fecal Incontinence* / etiology
  • Humans
  • Neurogenic Bowel* / etiology
  • Quality of Life
  • Spinal Cord Injuries* / complications