A Common Denominator for Back, Bowel, and Bladder Problems

Written by Bob O'Grady on . Posted in Blog

While disc herniation and degenerative disc disease can cause lower back pain, as well as numbness and weakness in the legs, other symptoms may include urinary retention or incontinence and/or bowel incontinence. Since minor discomforts can develop into more serious complications, it’s important to have a better understanding of the various spinal nerve problems that can cause these symptoms. That way, you’ll know when to get treatment to prevent your symptoms from getting worse.

Loss of Bladder Control

Nerves in the bladder send messages to the brain telling it that your bladder is full. The brain then sends signals to your bladder instructing the muscles that control the release of urine to relax. Disruption of these signals can result in urinary incontinence, bladder pain, and lower abdominal pain. In some cases, abdominal pain from bladder or kidney infections caused by nerve compression can move into your lower back.

If a compressed spinal nerve causes you to lose the sensation that signals the need to urinate, your bladder can become distended. In fact, urine retention can cause all kinds of problems if your bladder becomes too full. You can develop kidney or bladder infections, or even kidney damage from the pressure that urine backing up from the bladder to the kidneys can cause.

Loss of Bowel Control

Bowel incontinence — the inability to control bowel movements — can occur when you are unaware that your rectum is full. If you can’t feel the sensation that you need to empty the bowel, you may pass stool without knowing it.

Sometimes a bulge in an intervertebral disc in the lower back irritates a nerve. When this happens, bladder and/or bowel dysfunction can occur along with pain depending on which nerve a herniated disc irritates.

Causes of Loss of Bladder or Bowel Control

A herniated disc, nerve compression, or another disorder affecting the spine can interfere with the nerve signals traveling from the legs and organs in the lower pelvic region to the brain. If this happens, lower back pain may not be your only problem.

Herniated Disc

When a disc herniation is severe, compressing nerves that control bowel and bladder function, you can suffer urinary and/or fecal incontinence. Herniated discs, which are also referred to as slipped discs, commonly occur in the lower back, or lumbar region of the spine. Degenerative disc disease is often a cause of disc herniation.

If lumbar disc herniation is severe, besides low back pain and leg pain, you may experience loss of bowel and bladder control, rectal pain, and numbness in your buttocks and the backs of your thighs. Although the pain associated with a herniated disc can be severe — especially at the start — see your doctor if pain persists or any of these other symptoms develop.

Cauda Equina Syndrome

A herniated disc isn’t the only condition that can press on a spinal nerve. Degenerative disc disease may put pressure on the cauda equine — a bundle of nerves at the end of the spinal cord. Damage to these nerves can cause you to have problems with urinating or passing stool.

Cauda equina syndrome is a medical emergency that can cause permanent damage, including paralysis of the lower body and a loss of bladder and/or bowel control. You may need surgery to prevent these complications if nerve compression is severe.

Signs that spinal nerve roots at the cauda equina are compressed include lower back pain and numbness and tingling or muscle weakness in the legs. You can also experience a loss of feeling in your legs, urethra, and the lower region of your body between the anus and the scrotum or vulva. Slower reflexes in your lower extremities may be another symptom.

Not everyone with degenerative disc disease in the lumbar spine develops cauda equina syndrome. Nerve compression affects people differently, and depending on the cause and severity, physical therapy and pain medication may be the only treatment you need to manage chronic lower back pain.

Spinal Stenosis

Lumbar spinal stenosis, a condition characterized by a narrowing of the spinal canal in your lower back, can also cause back pain, weakness or numbness in your legs, and loss of bowel or bladder control. Pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves within this vertebral column are responsible for your symptoms, which usually begin to develop by age 50.

Except in extreme cases when surgery may be necessary, treatment for spinal stenosis generally includes physical therapy, which includes stretching and flexibility exercises and exercises to strengthen your back, core, and leg muscles. Nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory medications help relieve pain and inflammation. Your doctor may also recommend cortisone injections to reduce swelling.

If you suffer from bowel and bladder issues related to nerve compression in the lumbar spine, the physicians at Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates offer treatment alternatives to help relieve your pain and the discomfort associated with bowel and/or bladder dysfunction.