Breathlessness and Long Covid: tips and techniques

Photo by Eli DeFaria on Unsplash

Breathlessness and respiratory problems are some of the most common symptoms linked to Long Covid. Emily Lockwood, founder of Air Physiotherapy and expert in breathing and lung conditions, tells us more about techniques to help improve your breathing quality when dealing with Long Covid.

Optimal breathing

Breathing should be effortless, something you don’t need to think about. This is known as optimal breathing. But, when your breathing pattern changes – as is the case for many people recovering from Covid-19 – you may lose that ability. This means that you are no longer breathing in a way that is physiologically best for your body, and as a result it can affect your:

  • sleep

  • mood

  • digestion

  • heart

  • nervous system

  • muscles

  • brain

In order to address breathing problems, it’s helpful first to know what optimal breathing looks like. Optimal breathing involves the use of the diaphragm, which is a big, thick sheet of fatigue-resistant muscle that attaches to the underside of the lower rib cage and the spine at its central point. As the diaphragm contracts, it moves from a dome position under the lower rib cage to a flattened position. This contraction of the diaphragm pushes the lower rib cage out to the sides and forwards slightly, creating much more space for the lungs to fill adequately and uniformly with air. The increase in space creates a negative pressure which leads to air rushing into our lungs – a breath in. The opposite is true for a breath out: the diaphragm rises back into the dome position and the rib cage relaxes. This creates a squeeze or a positive pressure which forces air to exit our lungs.

With a breathing pattern problem, the optimal mechanics outlined above are often impaired and there are disruptions to the speed, depth and ratio of your breath. For example, you might experience a shortness of breath when you are not exerting yourself or when doing activities which previously wouldn’t have affected your breathing. Remember also that changes can be subtle, and could go unnoticed by the individual themselves.

How to improve your breathing?

Take time to analyse your breathing pattern and watch this video to learn more about breathing techniques.

Some key points to note:

  • Nose – Breathe in and out through your nose. Unlike breathing through your mouth, the nose refines and prepares the air coming into the body. It warms, humidifies, filters and controls the speed of the air entering your airways, enabling it to be used as efficiently as possible.

  • Rhythm – When at rest, you should be taking around 10-14 breaths per minute. Ensure that all the breaths are the same size. 

  • Sound – Loud breathing is an indicator that your breathing pattern isn’t quite right

  • Movement – You should be breathing from your lower chest. The diaphragm should be flattening when you breathe in. When it flattens, it creates the space within your lungs to take an adequate sized breath. Your abdomen will naturally rise too.

Emily Lockwood is the founder of Air Physiotherapy, a respiratory physiotherapy service set up to help those with breathing problems, respiratory conditions and Long Covid. Find out how they can help with your Long Covid rehabilitation by creating a safe and tailored programme at https://www.airphysiotherapy.co.uk/

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