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Pulmonary Hygiene After Spinal Cord Injury


Pulmonary hygiene is also called respiratory care. Pulmonary hygiene is a group of exercises and treatments to help you breathe better and to keep your lungs healthy. Although many people need pulmonary hygiene, it is very important for people with spinal cord injuries (SCI). Caregivers will work very closely with you to help your lungs work as well as possible and to prevent problems. The amount of trouble you have breathing depends on where your spinal cord is injured. Pulmonary hygiene consists of breathing exercises and treatments, postural drainage, chest physiotherapy (fiz-ee-oh-THER-ah-pee), quad assist coughing, and suctioning.


Take your medicine as directed.

Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Ask for information about where and when to go for follow-up visits:

For continuing care, treatments, or home services, ask for more information.

What if I cannot breathe well enough on my own?

You may need help breathing right after a spinal cord injury. You may need assisted ventilation which may include a phrenic (FREN-ik) pacer, or a mechanical ventilator (ven-ti-LAY-ter).

What is a pulmonary embolism?

A pulmonary embolism (EM-boh-lizm) happens when a thrombus (blood clot) blocks a pulmonary (lung) artery. Pulmonary embolisms (PE's) are common problems after an SCI, and can be life-threatening. Caregivers may give you medicine to help keep your blood from clotting. You may also be placed in a special bed that rotates to keep your blood moving well through your body. Caregivers will teach you the signs and symptoms of a PE, which include very bad and sudden pain and difficulty breathing. Chest pain and blood in your sputum (spit) also are signs and symptoms of a PE. Tell your caregivers if you feel or see any of these problems.

What can I do to prevent breathing problems?

There are many things you can do to help prevent respiratory problems. Staying active, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking will help your breathing. Drinking enough liquids and using a humidifier helps your respiratory secretions stay thin so you can breathe easier.

Where can I go for support?

  • Having a spinal cord injury is life changing for you and your family. Accepting that you have a spinal cord injury is hard. You and those close to you may feel angry, sad, or frightened. These feelings are normal. Talk to your caregivers, family, or friends about your feelings. Let them help you. Encourage those close to you to talk to your caregiver about how things are at home. Your caregiver can help your family better understand how to support a person with a spinal cord injury.
  • You may want to join a support group. This is a group of people who also have spinal cord injuries. Ask your caregiver for the names and numbers of support groups in your town. You can contact one of the following national organizations for more information.
    • Paralyzed Veterans of America
      801 Eighteenth Street NW
      Washington, DC , 20006
      Phone: 1- 800 - 424-8200
      Web Address:
    • National Spinal Cord Injury Association
      1 Church Street, Suite 600
      Rockville , MD 20850
      Phone: 1- 800 - 962-9629
      Web Address:
    • American Spinal Cord Association
      2020 Peachtree Road, NW
      Atlanta, Georgia , 30309-1402
      Phone: 1- 404 - 355-9772
      Web Address:


  • You think the ventilator is not giving you enough oxygen.
  • You suddenly feel lightheaded and have trouble breathing.
  • You have new and sudden chest pain. You may have more pain when you take deep breaths or cough. You may cough up blood.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.