Expert Answers: Posture and COPD
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A community member here at COPD.net brought up an interesting question:

I am having issues with bad posture – for example leaning forward and hunching my shoulders without even realizing it. Could this be related to COPD, and what can help me?

We decided to ask our experts for their responses to this – read on for their answers!

Response from Leon

LeonWe are all aware that there are several causes for the breathing issues that are associated with COPD. Of late, there is some focus on the connection between COPD and posture. While proper posture cannot prevent or cure your COPD, learning how to maintain correct posture can help you reduce your shortness of breath.

When you sit or stand slouched over, your ribcage and sternum press against your diaphragm. This poor positioning will cause your body to have to work harder to breathe properly. The ‘for example’ provided in the question (leaning forward with hunched shoulders), would also seem to have a bearing on this.

When you have COPD, your body is already working harder than normal to get enough oxygen – poor posture may increase this difficulty. The posture you have while sitting can play a role in your ability to breathe properly. While COPD alone makes breathing difficult, additional factors like physical activity, excitement, and adverse weather conditions can trigger these symptoms and compromise breathing even further.

In conjunction with breathing strategies, such as pursed lip breathing and diaphragmatic breathing, these suggestions, while sitting, may be helpful in improving your breathing ability:

Sitting posture 1:

  • Rest your feet flat on the floor.
  • Lean your chest forward slightly.
  • Rest your elbows on your knees or rest your chin on your hands.
  • Relax your neck and shoulder muscles.

Sitting posture 2:

  • Rest your feet flat on the floor.
  • Lean your chest forward slightly.
  • Rest your arms on a table.
  • Rest your head on your forearms or on some pillows.

As well, not everyone realizes the importance of standing correctly, and the impact it has on your ability to breathe. You may find that utilizing these suggestions, while standing, may be helpful in improving your breathing ability:

Standing posture 1:

  • Stand with your feet spread/separated at a shoulder’s width apart.
  • Use a wall to rest your hips on.
  • Rest your hands on your thighs.
  • Relax your shoulders, leaning forward slightly and now, dangle your arms in front of you.

Standing posture 2:

  • Use a piece of furniture to rest your elbows or hands, keeping them below shoulder height.
  • Use your forearms to brace yourself, allowing your neck to relax.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed.

The posture you use while sleeping will not only help you breathe better, but may even improve your quality of sleep. Many people do not realize how much their posture may improve their sleep until they change it and experience its benefits personally. Here are two suggestions:

Sleeping posture 1:

  • While lying on your side, keep one pillow wedged between your legs (at the knees) and the other pillow to keep your head elevated.
  • Keep your back straight once the pillows are in place.

Sleeping posture 2:

  • Lie on your back with your head elevated and your knees bent, with a pillow under your knees.

While these suggestions may seem minor compared to other therapies, they may make a significant difference towards easing the work of breathing. Changing posture may feel difficult at first, but it will become second nature after just a short time of reinforcement. You might be both surprised and pleased with the results.

Response from Lyn

lyn harperLeaning forward and hunching shoulders may be related to COPD; it’s often a way a person relieves the feeling of being unable to breathe.

Try to take note next time you find yourself doing it. Was it because you were short of breath and automatically leaned forward to ease that? From this position, you may also start “purse-lipped” breathing; another common way to ease shortness of breath.

However, if it’s more of a continuous posture problem, that could actually have the opposite effect and hinder your ability to take deep breaths. Try testing your posture in front of a full-length mirror by standing sideways in front of it. Close your eyes and stand up quickly, straight as you can. Now open your eyes and look at your posture. Are your shoulders slumped forward? Does your head appear to be tilting forward? Is your chest “caved” in? If you answered yes to any of these, you may need to perform a few simple exercises to improve your posture.

The first hurdle is recognizing you need to work on it.

Try strengthening your neck by doing chin tucks and neck extensions as you sit in a chair. Hold them for only a few seconds and release. To ease the slumping shoulders, you can do shoulder stretches – which are really just a matter of standing up and pulling your shoulders back as far as you can and hold a few seconds. You’d be surprised how good it feels.

If it’s really progressed to the point of affecting your ability to breath, you should speak to your doctor about your concerns.

Sometimes a few sessions with a physical therapist are worth their weight in gold.

Your doctor is in the best position to determine that.

So, how is your posture? What do you think about these ideas? Share in the comments!

view references
  1. Posture and Breathing http://copd.newlifeoutlook.com/copd-and-posture/ (Accessed January 2017)
  2. Positions to Reduce Shortness of Breath http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/positions-to-reduce-shortness-of-breath (Accessed January 2017)
  3. How Bad Posture Affects Breathing http://intulohealth.com/intulo-health-blog-articles/remedial-massage-and-body-mot-articles/13-howbad-posture-affects-breathing (Accessed January 2017)
  4. Does sitting posture in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease really matter? An analysis of 2 sitting postures and their effect [corrected] on pulmonary function. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17135862 (Accessed January 2017)
  5. Breathing Strategies https://copd.net/living-with-copd/pulmonary-rehab/breathing-strategies/ (Accessed January 2017)
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