Breathing is usually something
we do without thinking. But a
spinal cord injury (SCI) may affect some of the muscles needed for breathing. This makes it
hard to breathe, cough, and bring up
mucus from the lungs, which leads to a greater risk of
lung infections such as
How your breathing muscles
are affected and what it means to your ability to breathe depends on which part
of your spine was injured.
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People with injuries lower on the spinal cord (below T12) usually don't lose control of these muscles and have no trouble
People with SCIs high on the neck may need a
ventilator. People with injuries between these levels
have a partial loss of the breathing muscles but can usually still breathe on
Preventing lung problems
There are things you can do to help prevent lung problems.
Know the symptoms of pneumonia. If you have the
symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. Talk to him or her
about getting vaccinated for pneumonia and
influenza. For more information, see the topic
Practice coughing. A forceful cough is important, because it will help you
bring up mucus in the lungs, which can help prevent some lung complications. If
your cough is weak and you have trouble bringing up mucus, you may need an
Practice breathing. Doing exercises, such as breathing
out forcefully, can help strengthen the muscles you use for breathing.
And there are things you can do that aren't directly related to your
Sit up straight, and
move around as much as possible. This helps prevent mucus buildup.
Eat a healthy diet. Eating healthy foods will help keep you from gaining or
losing weight. Being either overweight or underweight can lead to lung
Drink plenty of fluids, preferably water. This helps prevent the
mucus in your lungs from getting thick, and it makes the mucus easier to cough up.
If you have concerns with bladder control, talk to your doctor about how much
and when to drink fluids.
Choking: What to do
Choking is a danger if you have an SCI,
because the usual cough mechanism may not be strong enough to bring up the item
that is choking you. If choking occurs, your caregiver should:
Hit you sharply 4 times between the shoulder blades with the
palm of the hand.