Stimulation of Reflexes in the Gastrointestinal Tract

Utilization of the preserved gastrointestinal reflexes can be beneficial in bowel management following SCI. The gastro-colic reflex is stimulated by gastric distention due to eating and can activate bowel motility and promote defecation (Sloots et al. 2003; Ford et al. 1995). Digital stimulation of ano-rectal reflexes has been shown to result in increased rectal contractions and could be useful in bowel evacuation following SCI (Shafik et al. 2000).

Table 5: Reflex stimulation of the Gastrointestinal Tract


A single pre-post study demonstrates that digital rectal stimulation increases peristaltic waves in the left colon, thus increasing motility in this segment and aiding evacuation of stool in those with reflex bowel dysfunction (Korsten et al. 2007). Stimulation of ano-rectal reflexes in individuals with SCI above the conus can therefore be incorporated into bowel routines; pharmacological rectal stimulants can be used to trigger evacuation at a chosen time in combination with digital rectal stimulation. There is conflicting evidence regarding the strength of the gastrocolic reflex after SCI (Glick et al. 1984; Aaronson et al. 1985; Menardo et al. 1987) but this noninvasive intervention may be helpful in individuals with any level of injury and is worthy of evaluation when developing an individual program.


There is level 4 evidence (from one pre-post study; N=6) (Korsten et al. 2007) that digital rectal stimulation increases motility in the left colon.

  • Digital rectal stimulation increases motility in the left colon in individuals with reflex neurogenic bowel dysfunction after SCI.