Anorectal function in patients with complete spinal transection before and after sacral posterior rhizotomy

Gastroenterology. 1995 Apr;108(4):990-8. doi: 10.1016/0016-5085(95)90194-9.


Background/aims: The implantation of spinal stimulators to facilitate defecation in patients with complete spinal transection involves division of the posterior sacral nerve roots. The aim of this study was to investigate the role of spinal reflexes in anorectal function.

Methods: Anorectal manometry and electromyography were performed in 14 patients with supraconal spinal cord transection (C6-T12) before and after complete sacral posterior rhizotomy and in 30 normal controls.

Results: Patients with spinal transection lost conscious control of the external anal sphincter. Reflex responses to intra-abdominal pressure and to rectal distention were eliminated after rhizotomy, indicating that they are spinal reflexes. Rhizotomy also eliminated giant rectal contractions induced by rectal distention in these patients. In contrast, the exaggerated sphincter relaxation induced by rectal distention was not influenced by rhizotomy. Discriminant rectal sensation was lost, but patients with thoracic cord lesions perceived a dull pelvic sensation during rectal distention even after rhizotomy.

Conclusions: The exaggerated anorectal smooth muscle responses and absent conscious control of the anorectum may explain why patients with complete spinal transection experience uncontrollable reflex defecation, and the persistence of external anal sphincter contraction during straining may impair fecal expulsion. The elimination of these responses after posterior rhizotomy prevented reflex defecation while facilitating manual evacuation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anal Canal / physiopathology*
  • Defecation
  • Electromyography
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Manometry
  • Pressure
  • Rectum / physiopathology*
  • Reflex
  • Sensation
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / surgery
  • Spinal Nerve Roots / surgery*
  • Urinary Bladder / physiopathology