1. We have studied the motion of the abdomen and the rib cage in patients with a transection of the lower cervical spinal cord during normal breathing both in the supine and sitting posture, and compared it with that of normal subjects.
2. In the supine posture the rib cage of a patient moves paradoxically inward, therefore his chest wall is deformed, which explains the high work of breathing.
3. During expiration, beside the recoil of the respiratory system, there is also the recoil of the deformed chest wall, toward its passive configuration, with an expansion of the rib cage above its resting position during the first part of expiration and an alteration of the expiratory flow profile.
4. In a sitting ‘relaxed’ posture the paradoxical inward motion disappears in the lower rib cage, and it is reduced but still present in the higher rib cage.
5. We conclude that contraction of the diaphragm constricts the ‘passive rib cage’, either directly through its insertions or indirectly through the reduction of intrathoracic pressure. In seated subjects the diaphragm causes some expansion of the rib cage at its lower level. Therefore the motion of the rib cage is not only related to the balance between the forces developed by the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles, but also to the diaphragm dome configuration, the geometry of the rib cage and the lung volume.