Looking After Your Lungs With SCI

Spinal cord injury (SCI) often leads to impaired breathing. Many factors in SCI can contribute to poor lung function with obesity, smoking and the connection between posture and lung performance having been proved significant. For many SCI (level dependent) the muscles responsible for breathing are often weakened. This weakness reduces the volume of the lungs (lung capacity), the ability to take a deep breath and cough, and puts them at greater risk of lung infection. Just like other muscles of the body, it’s is possible to train the breathing (respiratory) muscles to be stronger.

Not all spinal cord injuries will result in impaired breathing. The level of your spinal cord injury plays a huge part in determining whether your ability to breathe will be compromised. Following damage to the spinal cord, the following muscles of respiration (breathing) may be affected if you have a spinal cord injury above T10:

Diaphragm – It is supplied by C3, 4 and 5. It is the main muscle responsible for inspiration (breathing in).

Intercostals – They are supplied by T1 – T11. These are small muscles that are attached to the ribs and help stabilise the rib cage and assist in inspiration (breathing in) and expiration (breathing out).

Abdominals – They are supplied by T6 – T12. They assist in expiration (breathing out). They work most during forced expiration such as coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose, shouting and choking.

Accessory – They are supplied by C1 – C8 and a cranial nerve. These are muscles in the neck. They normally only work to assist breathing during exercise or stress. In high tetraplegics they may become the main inspiratory muscles.

You can help prevent the collection of secretions in the following ways:

  1. Deep Breathing Exercises

When deep breathing, you expand more of your lungs than when breathing normally. This extra expansion helps prevent the airways from being blocked with secretions/-mucus or from collapse. To help clear secretions take 4 to 6 deep breaths at a time. Try to hold each breath for 2 or 3 seconds. For maximum benefit do the exercises in a variety of positions such as sitting, sitting upright (will help with abs strength also) or alternate lying on your right and left side.

  1. Pursed lip breathing

This simple breathing technique makes you slow down your pace of breathing by having you apply deliberate effort in each breath. Practice using this breath 4 to 5 times a day when you begin in order to correctly learn the breathing pattern.

To do it:

  1. Relax your neck and shoulders.
  2. Keeping your mouth closed, inhale slowly through your nose for 2 counts.
  3. Pucker or purse your lips as though you were going to whistle.
  4. Exhale slowly by blowing air through your pursed lips for a count of 4.
  1. Diaphragmatic breathing

Belly breathing can help you use your diaphragm properly. Do belly breathing exercises when you’re feeling relaxed and rested. Practice diaphragmatic breathing for 5 to 10 minutes 3 to 4 times per day. When you begin you may feel tired, but over time the technique should become easier and should feel more natural.

To do it:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees slightly bent and your head on a pillow.
  2. You may place a pillow under your knees for support.
  3. Place one hand on your upper chest and one hand below your rib cage, allowing you to feel the movement of your diaphragm.
  4. Slowly inhale through your nose, feeling your stomach pressing into your hand.
  5. Keep your other hand as still as possible.
  6. Exhale using pursed lips as you tighten your stomach muscles, keeping your upper hand completely still.

You can place a book or small weight on your abdomen to make the exercise more difficult. Once you learn how to do belly breathing lying down you can increase the difficulty by trying it while sitting in a chair.

During Covid-19 it is especially important to keep your lungs clear and healthy. Should you require further information please email me at


Exercising at Home with Spinal Cord Injury During Covid-19


  • If you have a spinal cord injury (SCI), you can and should be physically active.
  • Your health will benefit from regular exercise after SCI.
  • Your exercise program should include three parts: stretching, aerobic exercise, and strength training.
  • Setting goals, recognising potential barriers, being prepared, and learning about resources can help you have a successful exercise program.
  • With so many options, you can find an exercise program that is right for you.


People with SCI are more likely than the general population to have health problems related to weight gain, changes in cholesterol, and high blood sugar. People with SCI are also at higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Not being active may contribute largely to these problems.

Normal, everyday activities aren’t enough to maintain cardiovascular fitness in people with SCI. Regular exercise can help to reduce the risk of health problems after SCI.

Importance of Regular Physical Activity

  • Improves energy levels and ability to take part in activities
  • Strengthens muscles
  • Increases flexibility
  • Improves mood
  • Improves sleep
  • Decreases pain
  • Helps achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • Improves cholesterol
  • Improves blood sugar
  • Decreases the risk of heart disease

Because of these benefits, exercise is more than just fun—it’s a form of medicine that can be a powerful tool for preventing and treating many health conditions.

Exercise Guidelines

Exercise regularly based on your abilities. Avoiding inactivity during these challenging Covid-19 times is very important. Any amount of exercise is better than no exercise. If you require assistance in anyway contact us at No Barriers to discuss your specific needs. Exercise of any form will be beneficial at this time but a combination of aerobic and strength has a better balance.

Scheduling Exercise

It is best to exercise in routines of at least 30 minutes. But even as little as 10 minutes of physical activity at a time can provide health benefits. If possible, spread out your exercises throughout the week. The more time you spend exercising, the more health benefits you’ll get!

Options for Exercising

One of the great things about exercise is that so many options exist. Exercise can occur as part of your daily routine. Exercise can be done easily in your home.

Examples of stretching include:

  • Using your standing frame
  • Using exercise bands

Examples of aerobic exercise include:

  • Rowing with exercise bands
  • Pushing your wheelchair briskly

Examples of strength training include:

  • Weightlifting
  • Using resistance bands

Occasionally you may think you need special equipment to exercise, however adapt think outside the box ask us to help there are many ways to keep fit and healthy during these times.

Choose goals that you can easily achieve but that are challenging.

If you require any help with a programme in the home email me at