Breathing Techniques for COPD
For people who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), certain breathing techniques can help ease shortness of breath. Two techniques in particular, pursed-lip breathing and diaphragmatic breathing, are especially beneficial to people with COPD.
"COPD patients start off learning breathing techniques with a therapist, either an occupational therapist or a physical therapist," says Phyllis Dibbern, PT, a physical therapist with more than 30 years of experience in at National Jewish Health in Denver.
Your therapist will work with you to "retrain" you in the way you breathe.
Pursed-Lip Breathing for COPD
Pursed-lip breathing is basically breathing in through the nose and out through pursed lips. This technique is particularly useful when your shortness of breath flares up and when you exercise.
When you have COPD, weaknesses in your airways can cause them to collapse when you exhale, leaving air trapped in your lungs. This trapped air is what leads to shortness of breath. When you exhale with your lips pursed, there is increased resistance in your airways, which helps them stay open during exhalation.
Practice this technique by inhaling through your nose, making sure to keep your mouth closed. Then purse your lips and exhale softly for at least twice the amount of time as your inhale. Doing this forces you to use the correct breathing muscles and ensures you exhale as much air as possible so that it does not get trapped in your lungs. With less air trapped in your lungs, more oxygen will be able to get into your bloodstream.
Diaphragmatic Breathing for COPD
Diaphragmatic breathing is a breathing exercise that helps to strengthen your diaphragm, which is the most important muscle used in breathing. Your diaphragm is located under your lungs and helps you expel air from your lungs when you exhale. When air gets trapped in the airways in COPD patients, the diaphragm has difficulty functioning properly and eventually becomes less useful.
The first step in learning diaphragmatic breathing is to become more aware of the muscles you are using when you breathe so that you can use your diaphragm more. "Sometimes we will start [with] COPD patients lying down on their back so they'll feel their diaphragm moving," says Dibbern.
You can practice diaphragmatic breathing by lying on your back and placing one hand on the upper portion of your chest and the other on your belly. While you inhale through your nose, expand and push out your stomach muscles so that your chest does not move out. When you exhale, do so through pursed lips and contract your stomach muscles. After you have been practicing this technique regularly, you will automatically begin to use your diaphragm more. The goal is to use diaphragmatic breathing continuously. If you practice diaphragmatic breathing regularly, your diaphragm will begin to function better and your breathing will improve.
COPD Breathing: Techniques for Your Everyday Life
Dibbern says that she always has her COPD patients practice breathing techniques while doing activities.
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