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Paraplegia. 1992 Jul;30(7):479-88.

Breathing pattern adjustments during the first year following cervical spinal cord injury.

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Spinal Cord Research Centre, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.


The alterations in lung function and breathing pattern were examined in 6 quadriplegics at 3, 6 and greater than 12 months post injury, and were compared to 6 able bodied controls. Subjects were studied in both the seated and supine positions. Functional residual capacity (FRC), forced vital capacity (FVC), inspiratory capacity (IC), and maximum mouth pressure (Pimax) at FRC were measured. Total lung capacity (TLC) and residual volume (RV) were calculated. Resting breathing pattern was assessed for 20 minutes from a spirogram derived from summed rib cage and abdominal strain gauge signals. At 3 months in quadriplegics, TLC was reduced (p less than 0.05), RV increased (p less than 0.01) and FRC was normal in sitting; in supine, only TLC was reduced (p less than 0.05); Pimax was decreased (p less than 0.01) in both positions in quadriplegics at 3 months, but increased over the first year in the seated position (p less than 0.01). There were no alterations in breathing pattern at any time interval in quadriplegics in supine. In contrast, at 3 months post injury in sitting, expiratory time (Te) was shortened (p less than 0.05), tidal volume (Vt) was decreased, and heart rate elevated as compared to controls (p less than 0.05). Inspiratory time (Ti) was not significantly shortened at 3 months in quadriplegics, but a lengthening of Ti occurred between 3 and 6 months (p less than 0.025) resulting in increased Vt, and heart rate decreased to normal. Vt/Ti was reduced, and did not alter with time. The lengthening of Ti/Ttot observed in supine in control subjects (p less than 0.025), was not observed in quadriplegics. Quadriplegics sighed as frequently in supine as did controls at all stages post injury, whereas they decreased sighing frequency in sitting at 3 and 6 months post injury (p less than 0.05). The improvement in resting breathing pattern observed in quadriplegics in sitting with time, may be due to increased accessory muscle function, improved chest wall stability and thoracoabdominal coupling, or a combination of these factors. It is also possible that the alterations in breathing pattern were a response to cardiovascular adjustments occurring in the same time frame. Quadriplegics retain the sigh reflex, but do not take as many big breaths in sitting as they do in supine, probably due to the increased work of breathing in the seated posture.

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