Key Points

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  • For exercise training to improve respiratory function the training intensity must be relatively high (70-80% of maximum heart rate) performed three times per week for six weeks. Ideal training regimes have not been identified.
  • Respiratory muscle training improves respiratory muscle strength and endurance in people with SCI.
  • The use of bronchodilators should be considered in subjects with tetraplegia who demonstrate an element of obstructive airway impairment.
  • The effects of other medications commonly used in the management of SCI such as baclofen and oxybutynin should be considered when reviewing airway hyperreactivity in subjects with tetraplegia.
  • The short-term use of oxandrolone should be considered to improve pulmonary functioning subjects with tetraplegia.
  • Progressive ventilator free breathing protocol should be considered for ventilator dependent subjects with tetraplegia who are appropriate for ventilator weaning.
  • Resistance and endurance training should be considered in subjects who are candidates for ventilator weaning.
  • Case by case consideration should be given to tracheostomy decannulation in subjects with SCI. The indications and criteria for tracheostomy decannulation have not been established in SCI.
  • Abdominal binding can be used to achieve immediate improvements in respiratory function, but long term effects can be sustained during its application.
  • Chest wall vibration may improve pulmonary function while the vibration is applied, but carry-over effects when the vibration is not in use has not been evaluated.
  • There is limited evidence that immersion to shoulder-deep 33-34° C water may improve pulmonary function immediately after, but carry-over effects following immersion has not been evaluated.
  • Patients with SCI have a high prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea, and therapy may improve quality of life and other outcomes. Therefore, we recommend vigilance for suggestive signs and symptoms (e.g., snoring, obesity, witnessed apneas, daytime sleepiness) and further testing in patients with suggestive symptoms/signs (with overnight oximetry or polysomnography).
  • There is limited evidence that suggests that improving inspiratory and expiratory muscle force is important to maximize expiratory flow during cough.
  • Cough effectiveness can be enhanced by a variety of methods including manual assistance by a caregiver and/or electrical stimulation triggered by the person with SCI.
  • Hand-held expiratory pressure devices may enhance secretion removal in people with SCI.
  • There is some evidence that suggests a higher survival rate, as well as better power wheelchair management, phonation success, and patient satisfaction in phrenic paced subjects compared to mechanically ventilated subjects.
  • Phrenic nerve or diaphragmatic stimulation may be used as a long-term alternative to mechanical ventilation for subjects with injuries at C2 or above.