The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle located just below the lungs. You use it to breathe.
When you breathe, the diaphragm contracts and flattens, which causes your chest cavity to expand. This creates a vacuum that draws air into the lungs through the nose and windpipe. At the same time, as you exhale, your diaphragm relaxes and returns to its original shape. This forces air out of the lungs.
A healthy adult breathes 12 to 28 times a minute, or as many as 40,000 breaths a day.Your diaphragm does most of the work in breathing, but your intercostal muscles (a group of 22 pairs of very small muscles located between your ribs) also play an important role in helping to expand and contract your ribcage with each breath .
Your diaphragm and COPD
In people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the diaphragm is weakened and cannot function properly during breathing. This appears to be due to changes in the cells of the diaphragm causing the muscle fibers to lose some of the force they need to contract and relax.These changes start to happen when you first have COPD.
When your diaphragm isn’t working properly, your body uses other muscles in your neck, back, and shoulders to do the job of contracting and expanding your chest. However, these muscles don’t fully compensate for your weakened diaphragm, so you have trouble breathing.
Studies have shown that a very weak diaphragm can make your COPD worse, and may make it worse.People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — even severe ones — with weaker diaphragms don’t perform as well as those with stronger diaphragms.
Improve your diaphragm strength
Works your breathing muscles, which can help you breathe easier.
The COPD Foundation recommends two breathing techniques for COPD patients: pursed lip breathing and diaphragmatic (abdominal/abdominal) breathing. Both can help you feel less short of breath, but diaphragmatic breathing can also help strengthen your breathing muscles so they can do more of the much-needed breathing work.
Diaphragmatic breathing techniques are a little tricky to learn. Therefore, you should get some guidance from a respiratory therapist or physical therapist who knows the technique and can teach it to you.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does COPD weaken your diaphragm?
COPD involves airflow limitation and hyperinflation of the lungs, which makes the respiratory muscles work harder. This causes the diaphragm to flatten and reduce its ability to generate tension.
Other factors that can weaken the diaphragm in COPD patients include proteases that break down muscle tissue, poor nutrition, aging, oxidative stress, and other concurrent health conditions.
What are the signs of diaphragm weakness?
Dyspnea due to repeated diaphragmatic weakness in COPD is most pronounced when a person is lying down, walking, or underwater all the way to the lower chest.
How to strengthen the diaphragm?
Breathing therapy can help improve diaphragm strength in COPD patients. A therapist can teach you exercises such as pursed lip breathing and diaphragmatic breathing.
Why do people with COPD purse their lips to breathe?
Pursed-lip breathing is used to control shortness of breath in COPD patients. The technique involves inhaling through the nose and exhaling slowly through the pursed lips. This helps slow down breathing, allowing more air to enter the lungs.
If you see someone with COPD practicing pursed lip breathing, realize that they feel short of breath. Be extra patient and give them time to catch their breath. If you are walking, slow down or suggest sitting down. If you are talking, pause the conversation.