Spinal Cord Injury



More than half of people who experience a spinal cord injury, also experience a condition known as tetraplegia. It often results in requiring a mechanical ventilator to help with breathing, as well as possible respiratory and bowel complications.

NeuRA’s Senior Research Scientist Dr Euan McCaughey recently received $2.4 million to undertake a program of work evaluating whether electrical stimulation of the abdominal muscles can reduce the length of time people with a spinal cord injury require the assistance of a mechanical ventilator, and whether this technology can reduce respiratory complications and improve bowel function.

In his speech Dr McCaughey mentioned that people with a spinal cord injury are up to 150 times more likely to get pneumonia than the general public and over half of them have bowel problems.

This program of work will greatly expand previous research and significantly improve the lives of those living with a spinal cord injury.

For more information contact Gabrielle Allen


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Abdominal muscle stimulation to improve bowel function in spinal cord injury

Bowel complications, resulting from impaired bowel function, are common for people living with a spinal cord injury (SCI). As a result, people with a SCI have high rates of bowel related illness, even compared with those with other neurological disorders. This includes high rates of abdominal pain, constipation, faecal incontinence and bloating. These problems lower the quality of life of people with a SCI and place a financial burden on the health system. A treatment that improves bowel function for people with a SCI should reduce illness, improve quality of life and lead to a large cost saving for health care providers. Bowel problems have traditionally been managed with manual and pharmacological interventions, such as digital rectal stimulation, enemas, and suppositories. These solutions are usually only partially effective, highlighting the need for improved interventions. The abdominal muscles are one of the major muscle groups used during defecation. Training the abdominal muscles should improve bowel function by increasing abdominal pressure. During our previous Abdominal FES research with people with a SCI, we observed that Abdominal FES appeared to lead to more consistent and effective bowel motion. However, this evidence remains anecdotal. As such, we are going to undertake a large randomised controlled trial to investigate the effectiveness of Abdominal FES to improve the bowel function of people with a SCI. This study will make use of a novel measurement system (SmartPill, Medtronic) that can be swallowed to measure whole gut and colonic transit time. We will also assess whether Abdominal FES can change constipation-related quality of life and the use of laxatives and manual procedures, as well as the frequency of defecation and the time taken. A positive outcome from this study is likely to lead to the rapid clinical translation of this technology for people living with a SCI.