Physical Therapy Exercises for Lung Health

Breathing Problems & COVID-19

Breathing is one of the most important processes that the human body performs. Breathing is the body’s way of facilitating gas exchanges that allow cellular respiration to occur, primarily by bringing oxygen into the body and flushing carbon dioxide out of the body. To put it simply – without the breathing process, the human body cannot sustain life.

Unfortunately, there is a multitude of issues that can cause problems with the normal breathing process and affect the body’s ability to perform normally. Respiratory illnesses are one such issue. While these illnesses have always been a problem, they’ve been brought into the public eye by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 is an infectious respiratory illness that quickly became a pandemic in March of 2020 after first surfacing only a few months earlier. As the disease is still so new, there is a lot we don’t yet know about COVID-19 and its long-term effects. However, its symptoms mimic many of the respiratory diseases that physical therapists already treat and help patients with.  If you are recovering from COVID-19, it is important to have a well-trained, multidisciplinary team that can help you manage recovery. This may include physical therapy, which can help improve movement of the spine, ribs, and extremities to make breathing easier while helping to restore function through gradual exposure to cardiovascular exercise.

Precautions

Do not begin exercises, and contact your doctor, if:

  • You have a fever
  • You have any shortness of breath or difficulty breathing while resting
  • You have any chest pain or palpitations (“fluttering” sensation of the heart or in your chest)
  • You have new swelling in your legs

STOP exercise immediately if you develop any of the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath more than normal
  • Chest pain
  • Cool, clammy skin
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Any symptoms you consider an emergency

Call 911 immediately if these symptoms don’t stop with rest or if you experience any change in mental status from your normal capacity.

Exercises to Improve Lung Health

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is a form of intentional, deep “belly” breathing that restores lung function using the diaphragm. Breathing through the nose helps to strengthen the diaphragm and encourages the nervous system to relax and work on restoring itself.

When recovering from a respiratory illness, it’s important to break up deep breathing exercises into steps so you can gauge your own ability. Start with the first step and move on to the next step only when you can complete the exercise without feeling too out of breath.

Step 1: Deep Breathing While on Your Back

  1. Lie on your back and bend your knees so that the bottoms of your feet are resting on the bed or floor.
  2. Place your hands gently on top of your stomach and wrap them around the sides of your stomach.
  3. Close your lips and place your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
  4. Breathe in through the nose and pull air down into your stomach where your hands are. Try to spread your fingers apart with your breath.
  5. Slowly exhale through your nose.
  6. Repeat for one minute.

Step 2: Deep Breathing While on Your Stomach

  1. Lie on your stomach and rest your head on your hands to allow room to breathe.
  2. Close your lips and place your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
  3. Breathe in through your nose and pull air down into your stomach. Try to focus on your stomach pushing into the mattress as you breathe.
  4. Slowly exhale through your nose.
  5. Repeat for one minute.

Step 3: Deep Breathing While Sitting

  1. Sit upright in a sturdy chair.
  2. Place your hands gently around the sides of your stomach.
  3. Close lips and place your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
  4. Breathe in through your nose and pull air down into your stomach where your hands are. Try to spread your fingers apart with your breath.
  5. Slowly exhale through your nose.
  6. Repeat for one minute.

Step 4: Deep Breathing While Standing

  1. Stand upright and place your hands on the sides of your stomach.
  2. Close your lips and place your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
  3. Breathe in through your nose and pull air down into your stomach where your hands are. Try to spread your fingers apart with your breath.
  4. Slowly exhale through your nose.
  5. Repeat deep breaths for one minute.

Pursed-Lip Breathing

Inflamed airways that might result from a condition like COVID-19 prevent air from circulating normally through the lungs. This can make you feel short of breath much of the time.

To practice pursed-lip breathing, simply inhale slowly through the nose and then exhale through pursed lips. You want to exhale for twice as long as you inhale, so if you inhale for five seconds, be sure to exhale for 10 seconds.

Laughing and Singing

It may sound silly, but laughing and singing are both fantastic, natural ways to help your lungs recover. Both of these activities work the abdominal muscles as well as the lungs, which can increase your lung capacity and force stale air out of the lungs. Singing can increase lung capacity by working the diaphragm muscle.

Increase Your Activity Level

Increasing your activity level can make a huge difference in your lung health. Brisk walks or riding a bike works as a lung exercise as well as providing a boost to your mood! Recent studies have shown that increases in daily activity by as little as 30 minutes a day can result in a marked increase to lung capacity.

Keep in Mind

If your lung capacity continues to diminish, or if you are having trouble breathing while resting, please consult your physical therapist. This may be indicative of more severe health conditions.

And remember – the more active your lifestyle, the better your clinical outcome!

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