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Osteopathy and COPD

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the name given to a group of lung conditions where it is difficult to breathe air out of the lungs. These conditions include

Bronchitis and Emphysema. In the UK there are 1.3 million people with a diagnosis of COPD.

Patients with COPD are usually aged 35 years of over – typically they are middle aged. Often individuals are smokers or ex-smokers, with exposure to air pollution such as dust, fumes and chemicals. They are also likely to have suffered with chest infection(s) as a child.

COPD usually develops because of long-term damage to your lungs from breathing in a harmful substance. This can affect some people more than others. COPD does seem to run in families, so if your parents had chest problems then your own risk is higher.

How Does COPD Impact Everyday Life?

Patients with COPD have told us that they experience:

  • Shortness of breath when doing everyday things such as going for a walk, doing housework, gardening. 
  • A long-lasting cough
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up more phlegm (mucus) than usual

Patients feel frustrated, with some losing their independence.  Daily activities such as going up and down stairs, housework, hobbies, getting out of bed and ready for the day can be affected.

Not being able to walk far can result in not going out as much, potentially creating feelings of isolation and/or anxiety, especially if individuals don’t feel able to turn to neighbours or friends.

Osteopathy And COPD

Patients come to our clinic hoping that treatment will help them to improve their quality of life. Maintaining physical activity levels is important in COPD as it is associated with a better disease prognosis as well as reduced hospitalisation and mortality. Patients with COPD start to reduce physical activity levels early in the disease progression in order to avoid symptoms such as shortness of breath. The resultant muscle de-conditioning, which is present even in mild disease, contributes further to a vicious cycle of inactivity. 

As with any new patient, we firstly provide a space where they can talk about their condition, fears and concerns. Our practitioner supports them with knowledge and advice as to how they can improve their lifestyle to enable improved health.

COPD is a condition that would have developed over years. Our first goal is to make breathing is as easy as possible. We will assess:

  • How do these ribs move when you breathe? The lungs are housed in a rib cage/basket.  If they are restricted, then this will make breathing even more difficult.
  • The ribs articulate with the thoracic spine at the back – so how is the thoracic spine moving?
  • Breathing is ‘done’ by the diaphragm – a large muscle that runs around the bottom of your rib cage, effectively dividing your chest cavity from your abdominal cavity.  Like any muscle, this can get tight; be in tension. The diaphragm also attaches to the lumbar spine – vertebrae L1-L3 – so what is the movement of the lumbar spine?
  • The diaphragm nerve supply is from the Phrenic Nerve and the Vagus Nerve.  The Phrenic Nerve exits in the neck at levels C3-5 – what is the movement of the neck?
  • The Vagus Nerve can be affected by the state of the muscles at the base of your head – the sub-occiput – so what is their quality?

We will use a variety of techniques, each one tailored to each individual person, to improve the mobility in all the above areas.

Why Is It Important?

Most people with COPD have one or more long-term health problems. 

If smoking is the cause, then heart disease may also be present. Being short of breath means you will be less physically active, affecting your overall fitness. This may lead to weight gain.

Mental health may be affected with depression and anxiety – which will be exacerbated by the shortness of breath.

Osteopathy can help to reduce the impact of COPD symptoms, helping to restore some quality of life for patients as well as their confidence. 

For more information, visit: Asthma & Lung UK (What is COPD)

BMC Respiratory Research (Understanding the impact of symptoms on the burden of COPD)

As well as treating the symptoms of COPD, our team is also able to offer advice to help with your fitness, breathing and lifestyle.

This article was written by Karen Robinson, formerly a Registered Osteopath.