Coming into the cooler months, we are all more prone to coughs, colds and chest infections. Physiotherapy can be useful to help people with chronic lung conditions, where they experience shortness of breath and or excessive phlegm production. Some examples include asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and bronchiectasis.

How your lungs work:

The body absorbs oxygen and gives off carbon dioxide as air moves in and out of the lungs with the help of the muscles of the ribcage and the diaphragm.

Air is carried through the lungs down to small structures that are like hollow sacs, called alveoli. Each sac contains a mesh of blood vessels where oxygen can enter the bloodstream. When oxygen levels are too low, the brain sends signals to the muscles that control breathing, so that they will work harder. This means that people with breathing difficulties have to work harder to get enough oxygen. If the lungs are stiff and not flexible, the diaphragm also has to work harder. People with breathing problems often use additional muscles to breathe, including the muscles of the neck and shoulders, which again can make breathing very tiring.

How can physiotherapy help people with lung conditions?

Physiotherapy is aimed at teaching strategies to relax breathing, so that less energy is used to breath.
Techniques and exercises to clear phlegm from the airways, so that more oxygen can enter the bloodstream.
Gentle targeted exercise programs for example cardiac or pulmonary rehabilitation, to maintain and increase fitness at an appropriate level.

Remember to seek medical advice before commencing any exercise program

Shanee Fleischer, Physiotherapist.

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