Positions to relieve breathlessness and reduce the effort of breathing

  • Forward lean sitting or standing: back straight, bend forward from hips, rest forearms on windowsill or table . Shoulders relaxed. Don’t rest on hands with outstretched arms which causes shoulder tension. When resting on a table add some pillows on the table on which to rest your head. If out shopping, a supermarket trolley provides the right support, while a wall or fence may help to rest on when walking outside.
  • Sitting upright in chair: arms supported on chair arms or cushions. Back straight, either supported by chair, or leaning forward to reposition diaphragm.
  • Standing leaning back: against a wall.
  • High side lying: lying on side, rolled well forward to let abdomen incline forward onto bed. Head of bed raised or whole bed tilted up.
Breathing techniques: lying, sitting and standing
Photographs: Wendy White
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  1.  High side lying.
  2. Forward lean sitting without pillows.
  3. Forward lean sitting with pillows.
  4. Upright sitting in chair.
  5. Forearm support to assist breathing using trolley.
  6. Forward lean standing.
  7. Standing with back support.
Additional information
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In advanced lung disease, particularly COPD, the lungs become hyper inflated, extra air is trapped in the lungs, the diaphragm becomes flattened and cannot work efficiently. Forward lean positions can help encourage the diaphragm into a more domed position so that it can work more easily.

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