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Neurorehabil Neural Repair. 2011 Feb;25(2):158-67. doi: 10.1177/1545968310378509. Epub 2010 Oct 15.

Posterolateral surface electrical stimulation of abdominal expiratory muscles to enhance cough in spinal cord injury.

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  • 1Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute, Randwick, New South Wales, Australia.



Spinal cord injury (SCI) patients have respiratory complications because of abdominal muscle weakness and paralysis, which impair the ability to cough.


This study aims to enhance cough in high-level SCI subjects (n = 11, SCI at or above T6) using surface electrical stimulation of the abdominal muscles via 2 pairs of posterolaterally placed electrodes.


From total lung capacity, subjects performed maximum expiratory pressure (MEP) efforts against a closed airway and voluntary cough efforts. Both efforts were performed with and without superimposed trains of electrical stimulation (50 Hz, 1 second) at a submaximal intensity set to evoke a gastric pressure (P(ga)) of 40 cm H(2)O at functional residual capacity.


In the MEP effort, stimulation increased the maximal P(ga) (from 21.4 ± 7.0 to 59.0 ± 5.7 cm H(2)O) and esophageal pressure (P(es); 47.2 ± 11.7 to 65.6 ± 13.6 cm H(2)O). During the cough efforts, stimulation increased P(ga) (19.5 ± 6.0 to 57.9 ± 7.0 cm H(2)O) and P(es) (31.2 ± 8.7 to 56.6 ± 10.5 cm H(2)O). The increased expiratory pressures during cough efforts with stimulation increased peak expiratory flow (PEF, by 36% ± 5%), mean expiratory flow (by 80% ± 8%), and expired lung volume (by 41% ± 16%). In every subject, superimposed electrical stimulation improved peak expiratory flow during cough efforts (by 0.99 ± 0.12 L/s; range, 0.41-1.80 L/s). Wearing an abdominal binder did not improve stimulated cough flows or pressures.


The increases in P(ga) and PEF with electrical stimulation using the novel posterolateral electrode placement are 2 to 3 times greater than improvements reported in other studies. This suggests that posterolateral electrical stimulation of abdominal muscles is a simple noninvasive way to enhance cough in individuals with SCI.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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