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Spinal Cord Injury: Assisted Cough


People who've had an SCI may not have a strong cough. A strong cough is important to help clear the lungs of mucus. This can help prevent lung problems such as pneumonia. If the person you're caring for has a weak cough or a lot of mucus, you may need to do an assisted cough.

An abdominal thrust (or Heimlich-type) assist is done while the person is sitting up in a bed or chair. If they'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.

Here's how to do an abdominal thrust assist.

  1. Place the heel of one hand on the person's belly just above their navel. Place your other hand on top of the first hand and interlock your fingers, keeping your elbows straight.
  2. Have the person take a deep breath and hold it.
  3. Tell the person to cough.
  4. When they cough, give one quick, firm push up and in, under the rib cage.

    It may take practice to coordinate the cough with the motion.

Talk to the person's 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.


Current as of: December 13, 2021

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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