Can Spinal Stenosis Affect Bowel Movements?

Spinal stenosis can affect bowel movements. When it does, you should be concerned.

Changes in bowel or bladder function could be a sign of a serious problem. In other cases, it's less serious, but still worth paying attention to. Learn how spinal stenosis affects bowel movements, and what to do about it.

Back Pain Relief More 4 Life Physical Therapy St. Louis MO 63011 Gladly Serving Ballwin, Manchester, Chesterfield, Des Peres, Ellisville, and St. Louis County. Find A Back Pain Specialist Near Me

Table of Contents

  1. What is spinal stenosis?
  2. How does spinal stenosis affect bowel movements?
  3. Should I be concerned if spinal stenosis is affecting my bowel movements?
  4. Can spinal stenosis cause bowel incontinence?
  5. Can spinal stenosis cause constipation?
  6. Are there any home remedies for bowel issues from spinal stenosis
  7. Can spinal stenosis affect urinary function as well?
  8. Can spinal stenosis cause urinary incontinence?
  9. Can spinal stenosis cause urinary retention?
  10. Can spinal stenosis affect sexual function?
  11. Treatment options for spinal stenosis and bowel movement problems

What is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a when the spinal canal narrows and puts pressure on the spinal cord and/or nerve roots.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis can occurs in the lower back (lumbar spinal stenosis) or the neck (cervical spinal stenosis).

However, lumbar spinal stenosis is usually what affects bowel movements.

The most common symptoms of spinal stenosis are problems walking or standing for long periods.

Spinal stenosis can also cause numbness and tingling in the legs.

However, when spinal stenosis affects your bowel movements or bladder function, it could be a sign of a serious condition called cauda equina syndrome.

How Does Spinal Stenosis Affect Bowel Movements?

Spinal stenosis can affect bowel movements by compressing the nerves that control the muscles responsible for bowel function.

These nerve roots are the S2, S3, and S4 nerve roots that make up the pudendal nerve.

Many non-medical people don't know that the spinal cord actually ends before your spinal column ends.

The spinal cord ends in the conus medullaris at the L1-L2 level and then only the spinal nerve roots continue into the lower back and pelvis.

Conus medullaris and cauda equina

Image Source: The Free Dictionary

The S2, S3, and S4 nerve roots that control your bowel and bladder functions are the farthest away from the lumbar vertebra and discs.

So it takes a serious disc herniation or narrowing (stenosis) of the spinal canal in order to affect your bowel movements.

This is known as cauda equina syndrome.

Along with affecting bowel function, cauda equina syndrome can cause urinary retention, urinary incontinence, and sensation around the anus and genitals, and sexual functions.

Should I Be Concerned if Spinal Stenosis Is Affecting My Bowel Movements?

If you have spinal stenosis and are experiencing changes in bowel movements, it's important to consult with your healthcare provider.

While bowel problems can be associated with spinal stenosis, they can also be caused by other medical conditions or even medications that you're taking for your spinal stenosis.

In any case though, changes in bowel or bladder habits is never normal, so make sure you get it checked out by a licensed professional.

Can Spinal Stenosis Cause Bowel Incontinence?

Severe spinal stenosis can potentially lead to bowel incontinence (loss of control of bowel movements).

Bowel incontinence is relatively rare and tends to occur in advanced cases of spinal stenosis, but when it does, that is a sign of cauda equina syndrome.

As previously noted, compression of the cauda equina affect the anal sphincters that keep your colon from leaking.

Spinal stenosis can cause loss of control of bowel movements due to denervation of the anal sphincter muscles.

If you're having bowel accidents, talk to your healthcare provider immediately.

Can Spinal Stenosis Cause Constipation?

Spinal stenosis itself usually does not cause constipation except in severe cases. If there is a cauda equina injury, that can affect the smooth muscles in the bowel and lead to constipation.

However, some of the pain medications that people take for spinal stenosis also have side effects of constipation.

Opioid pain medications and Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can both cause constipation.

Another reason that people may experience constipation due to spinal stenosis is if the stenosis is caused by a large disc herniation. Bearing down while having a bowel movement increases intra-abdominal pressure which can increase back pain and cause you to stop pushing.

Truthfully though, you shouldn't really be pushing when you have a bowel movement to begin with.

Learn more about that in the next section.

Lifestyle Modifications and Home Remedies For Bowel Issues From Spinal Stenosis

For incontinence, it's better to just talk to your healthcare provider.

Lifestyle modifications and home remedies can help manage constipation though.

Some recommendations include:

  • eating a high-fiber diet
  • staying hydrated
  • exercising regularly
  • practicing diaphragmatic breathing
  • focus on relaxing when having a bowel movement rather than bearing down

Keep in mind though, you should still talk to your healthcare provider if you're having any kind of bowel issues, especially if you're having incontinence.

Can Spinal Stenosis Affect Urinary Function as Well?

Yes, spinal stenosis can affect urinary function.

The same nerve compression that can impact bowel movements can also affect the nerves responsible for bladder control.

Can Spinal Stenosis Cause Urinary Incontinence?

Urinary incontinence can occur in severe cases of spinal stenosis.

You may lose sensation in your bladder making it difficult to tell when it's full.

As a result, this can result in overfilling of the bladder leading to incontinence.

If you're having major urinary accidents where you lose a lot of urine, that's more concerning.

If you just leak a drop or two when you sneeze, cough, or laugh, (stress incontinence) that's less concerning.  It's still not normal (even for women who have had children), but it may be more related to a pelvic floor muscle dysfunction.

The pelvic floor muscles are involved in stabilizing the lower back and pelvis, so sometimes weakness in the pelvic floor muscles can result in both stress incontinence and back pain.

Regardless, it's still a good idea to get it checked out either way. Pelvic floor physical therapy can help with stress incontinence.  However, major urinary incontinence episodes may be a sign of cauda equina syndrome.

Can Spinal Stenosis Cause Urinary Retention?

Yes, spinal stenosis can cause urinary retention, which is the inability to completely empty the bladder.

This occurs when nerve compression disrupts the signals between the brain, spinal cord, and the muscles controlling bladder emptying.

If you experience difficulty or a sensation of incomplete emptying while urinating, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional quickly.

Can Spinal Stenosis Affect Sexual Function?

Spinal stenosis can potentially impact sexual function.

The pudendal nerve supplies both the motor function and the sensation to your genitals.

If you notice numbness or tingling around your genitals or anus, or if you're having sexual dysfunction from spinal stenosis, make sure to consult with your healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause and appropriate management options.

Treatment Options for Spinal Stenosis and Bowel Movement Problems

Treatment for spinal stenosis and associated bowel movement problems may vary depending on the severity of the condition and individual circumstances.

Non-surgical treatments for spinal stenosis may include physical therapy,  exercise, and lifestyle modifications.

However, if spinal stenosis is affecting your bladder function, surgery may be necessary.

I can't emphasize this enough:

If spinal stenosis is affecting your bowel movements or bladder function, talk to your healthcare provider.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Read my full affiliate disclosure here.