Diaphragm pacing is a method to help improve breathing, speech and quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries who use a mechanical ventilator. Diaphragm pacing can potentially relieve dependence on a mechanical ventilator.

In diaphragm pacing, a lightweight, battery-powered system electrically stimulates your diaphragm muscles and nerves. This causes your diaphragm to contract so that air is pulled into your lungs to help you breathe. The devices for diaphragm pacing include parts both inside and outside the body.

Diaphragm pacing may:

  • Reduce or eliminate the time you spend using a ventilator or other assisted breathing devices
  • Help you breathe and speak more naturally
  • Increase your mobility and transportation options
  • Reduce anxiety or embarrassment about being on a ventilator
  • Make your activities easier, such as dressing, bathing and being moved
  • Improve comfort
  • Decrease your risk of respiratory infections
  • Improve your sense of smell and taste
  • Reduce the need for an external power source and concern about power outages

Diaphragm pacing involves implanting four small leads connected to tiny wires (electrodes) into your diaphragm muscle and a fifth electrode just below the skin near the other electrodes. These electrodes are connected to a wire holder outside the body. A cable on the other end of the electrode connector plugs into a small device outside your body (stimulator) that's worn on the skin.

The stimulator sends regular electrical impulses to the electrodes. This causes your diaphragm to contract and help you to breathe.