Background: Neurogenic bowel dysfunction (NBD) following spinal cord injury (SCI) represents a major source of morbidity, negatively impacting quality of life and overall independence. The long-term changes in bowel care needs are not well-reported, preventing consensus on the natural course and optimal management of NBD following injury. Objectives: To understand the changes in bowel management needs over time following SCI. Methods: A retrospective observational study using the National Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems database evaluated the degree of independence with bowel management at discharge from inpatient rehabilitation across time (1988–2016). The prevalence and consecutive trajectory of bowel management was also evaluated at discharge and at each 5-year follow-up period, for 25 years. Results: The majority of individuals discharged from inpatient rehabilitation (n = 17,492) required total assistance with bowel management, a trend that significantly increased over time. However, by 5-years post injury, there was a significant shift in bowel management needs from total assistance to modified independence. In those with consecutive 25-year follow-up data (n = 11,131), a similar shift in bowel management to a less dependent strategy occurred even at chronic time points post injury, primarily in individuals with paraplegia and classified as motor and sensory complete. Conclusion: The findings of this study highlight the need for providing continued multipronged interventions (e.g., rehabilitative, educational, psycho-social) at the different stages of SCI to support individuals not only in the immediate years after discharge but also well into the chronic stages after injury.

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