Fibre Facts

Constipation is when you are having fewer bowel movements than is normal for you. After a spinal injury it takes some time to find out what is normal for the new you. Eating habits often change. You may also drink fewer liquids and be less active because of your injury or because you feel weak or are in pain. Any and all of these changes can cause constipation. As a person with a spinal injury you may want to stay slightly on the constipated side to avoid accidents but too much can cause headaches, fatigue and even illness. If stools become too hard and dry it will make it difficult and painful to poop.

There are also certain medications, including pain medications, that increase the incidence of constipation. It's about finding the happy balance for you and your body and your bowel programme.

Managing constipation

If your bowel movements are hard to pass, if you are getting stomach cramps and pain, suffering with bloating or have no bowel movements fort hree days you need to speak to your medical practitioner about medications such as Dulcolax and Movicol for immediate relief.

After you have solved your initial symptoms you may want to implement some lifestyle changes to reduce your dependency on the medication and define a new normal for you.


Exercise massages your tummy from the inside! Exercise helps to stimulate your digestion and elimination systems. Pushing your wheelchair, balancing on a balance ball ormini-trampoline and resistance exercises will all help the process.

Drink more fluids

You should be drinking about 8 to 12 glasses of fluid each day including: water, prune juice and warm fluids in the morning such as herbal tea.Your body does not recognize coffee and tea as fluid but as food so discount these when totaling your liquid intake. Drink coffee in moderation and try to avoid fizzy drinks. And don't forget cranberry juice to aid against bladder infections!

Eat fresh fruit and vegetables

Fresh fruit and veggies should be the main component of your diet. Besides being a source of fibre (roughage), these foods contain the Antioxidant Vitamins (vitamins E, C and A). Antioxidants are free-radical scavengers in the body. They mop up the toxic free-radicals that are thought to play a part in cancer, heart disease, aging and so on.

Phenomenal Fibre

Fibre increases stool bulk, making the stool softer and decreasing the time it takes to pass through. Fibre is quite difficult to digest so, as it passes through our system, it kind of polishes us from the inside! Able bodied adults should eat about 30 grams of fibre per day. In South Africa, rural people tend to eat more fibre and easily reach their 30 grams per day. Westernised people tend to eat half of this or even less. With a spinal injury that amount of fibre may be too much for you, or too little, you really need to find the happy medium for your body.

Fibre improves the quality of your bowel habits (preventing constipation) and decreases the tendency to obesity as it fills you up so you do not crave more harmful foods. Certain fibre, particularly oat bran, tends to lower blood cholesterol and blood sugar. Fibre helps prevent many illnesses including: constipation; arterial diseases such as heart disease, stroke, gangrene, etc.;colon cancer; irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diabetes; obesity and diverticulosis coli (benign colon disease).

Good sources of fibre include fibre rich cereals, brown bread (particularly the "health breads", which are filled with roughage) and fresh vegetables and fruit. Cereal bars are often rich in fibre and a tasty snack.

One of the best ways to boost intake, if you are struggling to eat enough fibre, is to supplement your daily fibre intake with a high quality packaged fibre such as Fybogel. As you do not want to create a runny tummy, and all of the nasties that go with that, it is important that you gradually build up to the correct level of Fybogel for you (over a week or two) but it should never be more than 3-6 grams per day (1to 2 sachets). Please remember that, when you start eating more fibre, you must decrease the amount of packaged fibre youuse. Also get the timing right. Through trial and error you will discover how long it takes your body to process fibre. You don't want to eat it in evening and then end up having to visit the loo at 3 o'clock in the morning!! Or eat it with breakfast and end up having your business meeting disrupted by your bowels!