Updated: Nov 9, 2020
As our Memphis physicians and the rest of the world are still learning all the ways the novel coronavirus affects people in both the short and longterm, we do know that common side effects and complications from the virus involve the lungs and respiratory system.
As your immune system fights against the virus, your lungs and airway become inflamed and swell, and this can make breathing difficult, even in a relatively mild case.
People who develop more serious cases of pneumonia can experience their lungs filling with fluid and mucus, and this makes it hard to breathe deeply enough to get the amount of oxygen your body needs. Even as you recover from Covid-19, the respiratory effects of the disease can linger for weeks or months as the lungs heal.
While specific breathing techniques can't prevent the coronavirus, they can provide some relief and aid in the recovery process.
The following is a series of four specific techniques that anyone who is experiencing the effects of the coronavirus or any other respiratory distress can safely use. These techniques will provide you with tools to improve your breathing muscles and efficiency and hopefully allow you to breathe more comfortably.
1. Belly breathing (lying face down)
2. Side-lying back mobilization
3. Loosening fluid in the lungs
4. Assisted coughing
1. Belly Breathing (Lying Face Down)
Lying on the belly when recovering from an illness that affects the lungs helps with drainage and moves fluid to a position where it can be expelled easier with coughing. Belly breathing can help cue deep breaths into the lower lobes of the lungs and work on the efficiency and strength of the diaphragm and other respiratory muscles. Adding timed cyclic breathing can help challenge these muscles further as well as promoting a calm state in the nervous system.
Perform 2 minutes of quiet belly breathing followed by 3 - 5 cycles of the following: 8 seconds inhale through the nose, 5-second hold, 10 seconds slow exhale through the mouth.
2. Side-Lying Back Mobilization
This exercise can help improve the way the chest moves and decrease the restrictive feeling that often follows periods of illness, immobility, or prolonged time in one position. This position is gentle and easy for most people to incorporate. Perform 3-5 repetitions on each side with 3️ breaths per repetition.
After working on postural drainage and breathing, another way to help get the junk moving up and out of the lungs is to perform gentle percussion. Make sure to face away from the person performing the percussion, don’t use too much force, and repeat the sequence 3️-4 times on each side.
4. Assisted Coughing
After finishing percussion discussed in the previous video, coughing is a great way to tie all of the previous techniques together. Since the diaphragm and other breathing muscles are a little weaker, you can benefit from this self-assistance technique.
Try timing the assistance with the exhale and don’t push too hard. This is supposed to be gentle help - not the Heimlich. You can modify this position by holding a pillow up against your belly if it’s more comfortable. Spit out any junk you cough up into a tissue and throw it away. As always - make sure you wash your hands!
If you or someone you know has been affected by the coronavirus and is experiencing symptoms of reduced lung capacity and difficulty breathing, along with seeking medical care and advice from your physician, we encourage you to gently practice these techniques at home. These techniques aren't meant to take the place of medical care, and they won't necessarily keep the virus from progressing, but if breathing is difficult, we hope that these exercises will help you feel more comfortable and assist in your recovery.
If you have any questions or would like more assistance, please don't hesitate to reach out, we'd love to talk with you!
901 Physical Therapy
2637 Broad Avenue
Memphis, TN 38112