A COVID-19 Response: Self Help To Improve Your Lung Function

April 15, 2020

Karolina Kozlova, PT, DPT

Covid -19 is a respiratory disease that affects the respiratory tract and the lungs. Although still in the discovering phases of what mechanisms are at play, it is believed to damage the walls and linings of the air sacs in the lungs leading to inflammation and fluid buildup which results in poor oxygen transportation. As a physical therapist, I am concerned with the treatment of movement difficulties and the improvement of physical health and functional movement. When there are diseases that affect the pulmonary system(lungs), this can result in movement difficulties because the primary role of getting oxygen to the areas that need it is affected.

When our lungs are normal, breathing is easy. When you take a breath, your diaphragm does more than half of the work to fill your lungs with oxygen and then to expel carbon dioxide. If you have any underlying cardiopulmonary medical conditions, such as asthma or COPD, the lungs are less springy, and over time, stale empty air builds up which creates less room for the diaphragm to contract and bring in new oxygen.

In the cases of pneumonia, your lungs fill with fluid and can’t expand as much. This causes the inspiratory muscles to work overtime (since the diaphragm doesn’t have room), with a higher respiration rate, making the work of breathing very difficult. Thankfully we know that breathing exercises can improve the efficiency of the lungs helping to get rid of that old stale air and bring in new fresh air.

While we are all (for the most part) socially isolating and staying at home, we can all engage in some self care, especially if you have any kind of underlying neurological or cardiopulmonary disorders. Listed below are several forms of breathing exercises that can improve lung function and gas exchange (CO2 for oxygen) within your lungs.

 Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises (belly breathing) – Helps decrease the work of breathing, improve ventilation and normalize breathing patterns.

Directions: In a comfortable supported sitting position, place one hand on your abdomen over your bellybutton and the other hand on your upper chest.  Breathe slowly and comfortably and note the movement of the abdomen verses the upper chest. When you take a breath in, your lower hand will rise (as the diaphragm pushes the abdomen down) and fall when you breathe out (diaphragm returns to rest). The hand on the upper chest should have minimal movement. 

Pursed-lipped Breathing Exercises – Helps improve gas exchange in the lungs, slow down rate of expiration, increase the volume of expired air, decrease work of breathing, and increase exercise tolerance.

Directions: In a comfortable position, place a hand on your mid abdominal muscles. Inhale slowly through the nose and let the air escape slowly through pursed lips trying to avoid your abdominal muscles form activating. Stop exhaling when you feel your abdominal muscles contract.

Helpful cues: Smell the flowers (deep inhale), blow out the birthday cake candles (long exhale).

Deep Breathing Exercises – Helps colds from worsening, warding off pneumonia.

Directions: there are a few different techniques to improve deep breathing.

First, take a deep breath and hold if for a few seconds before breathing out. Repeat a few times.

Then, take a deep breath in as fast as you can and breath out also as fast as you can. Repeat. Follow this by taking a deep breath in and holding it, then add another breath, hold it, add in one more breath and then slowly breath out. Repeat a few times.

Lastly, take a deep breath in and then breath out, counting as long and as fast as you can.

Try to work on these exercises anywhere from 5-10 minutes every day to help your lungs breath more efficiently.

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