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BioMed Research International
Volume 2013, Article ID 168757, 12 pages
Review Article

Respiratory Management in the Patient with Spinal Cord Injury

1Critical Care Unit, Complexo Hospitalario Universitario A Coruña, CP. 15006, A Coruña, Spain
2Critical Care Unit, Complexo Hospitalario Universitario de Santiago de Compostela, CP. 15702, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
3Spinal Cord Injury Unit, Complexo Hospitalario Universitario A Coruña, CP. 15006, A Coruña, Spain
4Department of Medicine, University of A Coruña, CP. 15006, A Coruña, Spain

Received 30 April 2013; Revised 11 July 2013; Accepted 30 July 2013

Academic Editor: Boris Jung

Copyright © 2013 Rita Galeiras Vázquez et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) often lead to impairment of the respiratory system and, consequently, restrictive respiratory changes. Paresis or paralysis of the respiratory muscles can lead to respiratory insufficiency, which is dependent on the level and completeness of the injury. Respiratory complications include hypoventilation, a reduction in surfactant production, mucus plugging, atelectasis, and pneumonia. Vital capacity (VC) is an indicator of overall pulmonary function; patients with severely impaired VC may require assisted ventilation. It is best to proceed with intubation under controlled circumstances rather than waiting until the condition becomes an emergency. Mechanical ventilation can adversely affect the structure and function of the diaphragm. Early tracheostomy following short orotracheal intubation is probably beneficial in selected patients. Weaning should start as soon as possible, and the best modality is progressive ventilator-free breathing (PVFB). Appropriate candidates can sometimes be freed from mechanical ventilation by electrical stimulation. Respiratory muscle training regimens may improve patients’ inspiratory function following a SCI.