The effects of Long Covid, Asthma & COPD on Breathing
Most of us have experienced shortness of breath, often as a result of strenuous exercise. But for many people this is something they live with every day.
There are lots of reasons why people might have shortness of breath – it can be due to medical conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); it can be part of your recovery from another illness such as Long Covid or a chest infection; for some people its due to allergies; and for others it can be due to stress which can lead to panic attacks.
Whatever the cause, struggling to breathe deeply is not pleasant. It can be made worse with even mild exercise and it can make you feel panicky, hot and more breathless. It can make your chest feel tight and that breathing is hard work and tiring.
Depending on the reason for your breathing difficulties, the cause may be due to changes in your lung tissue making it less elastic, or irritation of your airways which have caused the lining to swell. For many people, part of the problem can be due to restrictions in the muscles and soft tissues that support your breathing.
When relaxed and breathing normally, you mainly use your diaphragm which is a dome shaped muscle that sits under the bottom of your ribcage. As you breathe in, the diaphragm flattens helping to pull air into your lungs, and as you breathe out it returns to its dome shape helping to push air back out of your body. In-between your ribs you have sets of small muscles that also help to expand and contract your ribcage as you breathe.
When you exert yourself or if you are experiencing shortness of breath, you breathe differently. Now your breathing is focused in the top of your lungs and you make use of other muscles in your chest and neck to help, as well as using the muscles between your ribs more. This is called shallow breathing and, although it sometimes feels like the best way of getting more air, it is actually a far less efficient way of breathing than using your diaphragm.
Sometimes shallow breathing can become your default and over time this can lead to restrictions developing in the muscles and soft tissues in the top of your chest and neck which have to work harder in shallow breathing. These restrictions form in the fascia, which is the main connective tissue in your body that surrounds and supports your muscles, bones and airways. If the fascia gets tight then it restrictions movement in these areas.
One way to help shortness of breath can therefore be to release the restrictions in the muscles that support your breathing. This can be done through simple myofascial release self-help exercises that you can do at home. Although self-help myofascial release can’t change your medical condition, it is an easy way to help yourself feel calmer and more relaxed, which in turn can help to relax your breathing.
hen you have breathing issues it’s also a good idea to use relaxation exercises to help calm both your mind and your body. These help to relax your nervous system which in turn promotes deeper and more relaxed breathing patterns.
Find out about some simple self-help myofascial exercises to try in our video: