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 pneumonia.
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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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 assisted cough.
Remove excess mucus from the lungs. Coughing may not bring up all the mucus. In this case, you may need chest physiotherapy and/or postural drainage.
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 lungs.
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 problems.
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.