Spinal Cord Injury: Assisted Cough


People who have had a spinal cord injury aren't always able to cough forcefully. A forceful cough is important. That's because it helps a person who has an SCI bring up mucus in the lungs, which can help prevent some lung complications such as pneumonia. If the person you're caring for has a weak cough and has trouble bringing up mucus or has lots of mucus, you need to do an assisted cough.

To do this, you push on the person's chest to help him or her cough. You do it while the person is sitting up in a bed or chair. If the person is in a wheelchair, be sure to put the brakes on before you do an assisted cough.

  1. Position your hands.

    Place the heel of one hand on the person's belly just above the navel. Place your other hand on top of the first hand. Interlock your fingers so that they are pulled away from the body.

  2. Keep your elbows straight.
  3. Have the person take a deep breath and hold it.
  4. Have the person cough while you push upward and under the rib cage, one time.

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

Some people shouldn't try an assisted cough. Don't use an assisted cough if the person:

  • Is in pain.
  • Has internal problems, especially with the belly. Pushing on the belly could cause more problems.
  • Has a chest injury, such as a broken rib.
  • Is pregnant. Most specialists don't recommend using an assisted cough for pregnant women, especially in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

Related Information


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