Restoration of respiratory muscle function following spinal cord injury. Review of electrical and magnetic stimulation techniques

Respir Physiol Neurobiol. 2005 Jul 28;147(2-3):273-87. doi: 10.1016/j.resp.2005.03.007.


Respiratory complications are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in patients with spinal cord injury. Several techniques, currently available or in development, have the capacity to restore respiratory muscle function allowing these patients to live more normal lives and hopefully reduce the incidence of respiratory complications. Bilateral phrenic nerve pacing, a clinically accepted technique to restore inspiratory muscle function, allows patients with ventilator dependent tetraplegia complete freedom from mechanical ventilation. Compared to mechanical ventilation, phrenic nerve pacing provides patients with increased mobility, improved speech, improved comfort level and reduction in health care costs. The results of clinical trials of laparoscopically placed intramuscular diaphragm electrodes suggest that diaphragm pacing can also be achieved without the need for a thoracotomy and associated long hospital stay, and without manipulation of the phrenic nerve which carries a risk of phrenic nerve injury. Other clinical trials are being performed to restore inspiratory intercostal function. In patients with only unilateral phrenic nerve function who are not candidates for phrenic nerve pacing, combined intercostal and unilateral diaphragm pacing appears to provide benefits similar to that of bilateral diaphragm pacing. Clinical trials are also underway to restore expiratory muscle function. Magnetic stimulation, surface stimulation and spinal cord stimulation of the expiratory muscles are promising techniques to restore an effective cough mechanism in this patient population. These techniques hold promise to reduce the incidence of respiratory tract infections, atelectasis and respiratory failure in patients with spinal cord injury and reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with these complications.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Magnetics*
  • Recovery of Function*
  • Respiratory Muscles / innervation
  • Respiratory Muscles / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy*