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Spinal Cord Injury: Abdominal Thrust Assist (Assisted Cough)

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A strong cough is important to help clear the lungs of mucus. If you have a weak cough or a lot of mucus, you may need an assisted cough.

In an abdominal thrust (or Heimlich-type) assist, another person pushes on your belly to help you cough. This is done while you are sitting up in a bed or chair. If you're in a wheelchair, be sure to set the brakes and use the seat belt. Wait 30 minutes after a meal before you do an assisted cough.

Use these steps to do an abdominal thrust assist.

Caregiver doing abdominal thrust assist to person sitting in chair, showing hands on belly above navel with fingers interlocked and pushing up and in.
  1. Your caregiver places the heel of one hand on your belly just above your navel. They place their other hand on top of the first hand and interlock their fingers, keeping their elbows straight.
  2. You take a deep breath and hold it until the caregiver tells you to cough.
  3. When you cough, the caregiver gives one quick, firm push up and in, under your rib cage. It may take practice to coordinate your cough with the motion.

Talk to your doctor before trying this. Some people shouldn't try an assisted cough. This may include those who:

  • Are in pain.
  • Have a chest or back injury, such as an unstable spinal injury or a broken rib.
  • Had recent surgery.
  • Have osteoporosis.
  • Are pregnant.

Credits

Current as of: November 14, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Nancy Greenwald MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

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