On inspiration descent of the diaphragm is opposed by the passive properties of the abdominal wall, the tone of its muscles, and the inertia of the abdominal contents. As a result, intra-abdominal pressure rises and promotes rib cage expansion. In patients with high spinal injury the diaphragm is the most important muscle of inspiration and abdominal wall displacement is more evident than in normal subjects. Abdominal wall compliance has been measured by relating gastric pressure to abdominal wall displacement, which was determined by means of an optical contour mapping system. Six normal subjects and six tetraplegic patients were studied in the supine posture, during passive expiration from total lung capacity to functional residual capacity. Over this lung volume range the normal subjects partitioned an average of 31% of expired volume to the abdominal compartment, while the corresponding average figure in the patients was 77% of expired volume. Since the range of gastric pressure was similar in the two groups, it is concluded that abdominal wall compliance is greater in tetraplegic patients. This high compliance could have a detrimental effect on lower rib cage expansion.
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