MND – Managing Respiratory Symptoms

What is Motor Neurone Disease (MND)?

Motor neurone disease (MND) refers to a group of diseases where nerves called motor neurons, which carry messages from the brain to the muscles, are affected (MND Australia 2021). MND is progressive and over time motor neurons become damaged, leading to weakness in the muscles that allow walking, speaking, swallowing and breathing (MND Australia 2021; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2023).  

Common symptoms of MND include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Slurring of speech
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Muscle cramps
  • Muscle twitching
  • Breathing difficulties
MND, Motor Neurone Disease, Respiratory Physiotherapy

How is the Respiratory System Impacted in MND?

There are many muscles that are important for breathing, and MND affects these muscles. This makes it more challenging to get air in and out of the lungs, leading to less oxygen available for the body and more carbon dioxide in the bloodstream (MND Australia, n.d.). Respiratory failure is the most common cause of death in MND (MND Association, 2021; Shaw & Wood-Allum, 2010)

Symptoms of respiratory impairment can include feelings of breathlessness, fatigue, recurrent chest infections, difficulty sleeping and headaches after waking up in the morning (MND Association, 2021). Early referral to a respiratory specialist team is recommended. It is also important to regularly have lung function tests to monitor how the lungs are working overtime (MND Association, 2021; Shaw & Wood-Allum, 2010). These are usually carried out every few months (MND Association, 2021).  

How can Physiotherapy Help Manage Respiratory Symptoms?

A physiotherapist can help to support the management of respiratory signs and symptoms by (MND Association, 2021; MND Australia, n.d):

  • Providing education about positioning to make it easier to breathe
  • Helping to support coughing for clearing of the airways
  • Teaching breathing techniques to maximise lung function
  • Teaching techniques to help remove phlegm from the airways
  • Prescribing a walking aid to make walking and breathing easier
  • Helping to manage fatigue

If you would like to know more about how physiotherapy can help you, contact us at 5448 115 or email We provide physiotherapy services at our Buderim Clinic or in the comfort of your own home.

Tyler Steel, Physiotherapist, APAM


MND Association. (2021, May). StackPath.

MND Australia. (n.d.). Physiotherapists: a vital part of an MND multidisciplinary care team | MND Australia.

MND Australia. (2021, August). What is motor neurone disease (MND?) | MND Australia.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2023, January 23). Motor Neuron Diseases | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Shaw, P. J., & Wood-Allum, C. (2010). Motor neurone disease: a practical update on diagnosis and management. Clinical Medicine, 10(3), 252–258.