Bowel Retraining

Written by Brian Krans | Published on August 15, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What is Bowel Retraining?

Bowel retraining is a behavior modification program to help people with dysfunctional bowels regain the ability to have normal bowel movements.

A complete bowel retraining program has several steps that can help you regain normal bowel function and regular bowel movements.

Why Bowel Retraining Is Done

Bowel retraining is done to help people with bowel problems. These can include:

  • chronic constipation
  • fecal incontinence
  • nerve damage from illness or injury

The Risks of Bowel Retraining

Bowel retraining is an extremely low-risk program.

The only risk of bowel retraining is if you strain to force a bowel movement. This could cause damage to your intestines.

How to Prepare for Bowel Retraining

Before beginning bowel retraining, visit your doctor for a complete physical examination. Your doctor will be able to determine if your problems are being caused by a correctible disorder—for instance, your problems could be potentially coming from a large clump of hard, dry stool called fecal impaction.

Your doctor can also guide you through the process to ensure you get the best care possible. He or she may also order some imaging tests of your bowels to ensure they are clear of any obstructions or disease.

You may also want to begin eating a healthier diet that is high in fiber. This includes eating plenty of beans, fresh vegetables, and whole-wheat grains. Doing so can help your stools become softer, bulkier, and more regular.

How Bowel Retraining Is Performed

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders gives the following recommendations to begin bowel retraining:

  • Pick a regular time each day when you will not be interrupted. Ten to 20 minutes after breakfast with coffee is a good starting point.
  • Sit on the toilet for about 15 minutes. Try to relax and gently rock back and forth to stimulate the bowels.
  • Don’t strain. If you don’t have a bowel movement during the allotted time, get off the toilet and go about your day.
  • If you haven’t had a bowel movement by the third day, use an over-the-counter enema. This helps train the body to go at the same time every day.

Repeating this every day in a consistent pattern is a crucial part of bowel retraining. Most people see positive results in a few weeks.

Your doctor may also recommend trying “digital stimulation”—using a lubed finger in a circular motion to relax the anal sphincter.

Other ways to help with bowel problems include Kegel exercises—exercises to strengthen the muscles that support the bowels—or biofeedback, a machine that uses a rectal plug to test anal sphincter muscles.

Following Up After Bowel Retraining

After successful bowel retraining, work to stay on a regular schedule. Eat a healthy, high-fiber diet to maintain regularity.

Your doctor can also help you with any other bowel maintenance concerns.

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