How Physical Therapy Can Help with Shortness of Breath Associated with COPD and Congestive Heart Failure

The average number of breaths taken per minute in a healthy individual is 12 to 20 breaths per minute. It is calculated by watching the number of times the chest rises and falls within a one-minute time interval.  Illnesses such as congestive heart failure, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and/or asthma can negatively impact this rate, resulting in feelings of lightheadedness, shortness of breath and difficulty completing daily activities of living.

When the number of breaths per minute increases > 25, this is considered rapid breathing and sometimes, hyperventilation, which can be associated with events such as anxiety, acute asthma exacerbation, dehydration, pneumonia or heart impairment. A sustained state of increased respiration is often associated with increased risk of co-morbidity and resulting hospitalization.

When the number of breaths per minute drops below 12 breaths per minute, it is often associated with disruption to the signal of the brain stem or obstruction at the chest such as brain trauma, sleep apnea, or drug interaction.High Jump

Physical therapy can offer a variety of interventions that can help normalize this rate. Upon evaluation by a licensed physical therapist, vital signs such as blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate are measured. In addition to this, the therapist will most likely assess pattern of breathing, flexibility of the rib cage, muscle flexibility and strength in the arms and the legs, and level of endurance utilizing standardized testing.

Based on the examination findings, a variety of interventions may be administered including exercises for endurance, flexibility, strength, postural reeducation and normalization of breathing and movement patterns.

While most causes for impaired breathing are not curable, the effects of progression are treatable and quality of life can be prolonged. It is important to discuss decreased breathing ability with a provider in order to appropriately address deficits that can be potentially reversed.


Posted in: Physical Therapy

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