Muscular diseases are characterized by progressive loss of muscle strength, resulting in cough ineffectiveness with its deleterious effects on the respiratory system. Assessment of cough effectiveness is therefore a prominent component of the clinical evaluation and respiratory care in these patients. Owing to uneven distribution of muscle weakness in neuromuscular patients, we hypothesized that forces acting on the chest wall may impact on the compartmental distribution of gas volume resulting in a decrease in cough effectiveness. Pulmonary volumes, respiratory muscle strength, peak cough flow and chest wall kinematics by optoelectronic plethysmography were studied in 8 patients and 12 healthy subjects as controls. Chest wall volume was modeled as the sum of volumes of the rib cage and abdomen. The plot of the volumes of upper to lower rib cage allowed assessment of rib cage distortion. Unlike controls, patients were unable to reduce end-expiratory chest wall volume, and exhibited greater rib cage distortion during cough. Peak cough flow was negatively correlated with rib cage distortion (the greater the former, the smaller the latter), but not with respiratory muscle strength. In conclusion, insufficient deflation of chest wall compartments and marked rib cage distortion resulted in cough ineffectiveness in these neuromuscular patients.