Chris spent 10 years learning how to support his wife in her battle with breast cancer. He shares openly about his successes and failures.
Two Common Causes of Shortness of Breath
When a person can't seem to take a full, satisfying breath, two maladies immediately come to the fore. One is asthma. The other is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD. The treatments for these medical conditions range from using an inhaler to surgery. Before I introduce two other possible causes of shortness of breath, let me emphasize the seriousness of this symptom.
I am not a physician, but I have experienced shortness of breath. When I first noticed it, I went to my doctor. It would have been a mistake for me to ignore this symptom because my father once told his doctor he was having trouble breathing when climbing stairs. The doctor checked him over and reported that everything was working just fine. Two weeks later my father died of congestive heart failure. So even under a physician's care, shortness of breath can be minimized.
Two Additional Causes of Shortness of Breath
There are at least two other reasons a person might experience shortness of breath. Is it possible that people are being treated for asthma or COPD when in reality their shortness of breath is due to one of these two, often overlooked, causes? I believe it is at least worth investigating, although asthma and COPD are very real and serious health conditions.
The first of these additional contributors to shortness of breath is tight muscles of the lower back, the upper back, and the chest. Taking a deep breath with any one of these, or any combination of the three is like blowing up a balloon with a rubber band around the middle.
I know this is a real possibility because I have proven it in my own experience. The tight muscles of my torso may have been a result of sleeping in a different bed or driving for a long time. I may have used those muscles in a way I am not accustomed to using them. As a result, the muscles tightened, and when they did, they restricted my ability to take a full breath.
Muscle Stretches Which Relieve Shortness of Breath
Stretching Muscles to Promote Free Breathing
When I experienced this after receiving a clean bill of cardiac health from my doctor, I began looking for another cause. I knew my upper back was feeling tight, so I did some stretching exercises. I was immediately able to get a full breath. Since then, I have discovered that my lower back and chest muscles can also cause shortness of breath. Here are a few stretching exercises to try if you have shortness of breath. These are not meant to replace an immediate visit to your doctor or the emergency room.
Also, these stretches are merely suggestions. You can replace them with other stretches for the same muscles.
Stretches for the Upper Back and Chest
A Stretch for the Upper Back
The first stretching exercise is for the upper back and shoulders. Sit looking straight forward. Point your chin down toward your left leg and tilt your head forward. The stretch will be down the right side of your upper back. Practice this on both sides until you can get a good stretch of the muscles.
Stretches for the Side Muscles, Latissimus Dorsi
Stretching the Sides, Latissimus Dorsi
The second exercise stretches the muscles down your sides known as the Latissimus Dorsi or Lats. Stand with your arms straight up over your head. Tilt your body at the waist to the right. Do this on the left as well. Experimenting with slightly different positions can cause a stretch to be even more productive.
Stretches for the Lower Back
Cat Stretches for the Lower Back
The cat-stretch is the third stretching exercise which will loosen the muscles of your entire back but the lower back in particular. Get down on your hands and knees. Arch your back toward the ceiling and hold the pose for a few seconds. Drop your belly toward the floor and hold.
Stretching the Chest Muscles
Stretching the Chest Muscles to Promote Free Breathing
The final stretch is for the chest. Stand straight and clasp your hands behind your back. Push your chest forward and your shoulders back. This will stretch the chest muscles.
Now take a breath and see if you notice a difference in the quality of breathing and the volume of air inhaled. Have the exercises improved your breathing? Take this information with you when you visit your doctor about the issue of shortness of breath.
Hydration Promotes Free Breathing
Dehydration Can Cause Shortness of Breath
Dehydration is another condition which can cause shortness of breath. This is due to the loss of blood volume and the resultant lack of oxygen distribution to the body's cells. The next time you have shortness of breath, try drinking a couple of glasses of water and monitor your ability to breathe afterward.
Two Sensible Ways to Promote Free Breathing
I do not intend to minimize the seriousness of heart conditions and asthma. People who genuinely suffer from these need appropriate treatments and the oversight of a good physician. But what could be more sensible for someone who develops a new case of shortness of breath than to try these two possible ways to resolve it. They take mere minutes. If they don't work, get to the doctor. In fact, if they do work, get to the doctor. But be sure to tell him or her that the symptom of shortness of breath seemed to be relieved by either stretching or hydration.
Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on February 24, 2018:
Peg, I'm glad you found the article helpful. Shortness of breath is such a major indication of heart problems. But I am convinced that in many cases, it can be merely tight muscles of the torso. I hope you find relief for yourself. I also sit far too long at the computer, and the result is as yours. But don't spend too much time away from your computer, we like your stories too much.
Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on February 24, 2018:
These are great suggestions to try and limber up those tight muscles that can lead to breathing difficulty. I spend far too much time in my office chair and often feel the muscle strain from too long in one spot. I'll be trying your cat stretch exercise as well as the others. Thank you.
Ann Carr from SW England on September 21, 2017:
Great advice for relieving symptoms such as these. Thanks for sharing the information and the exercises; they can only help (probably many people) and should be shared everywhere. Shame the 'share' button no longer exists (I don't to Facebook etc.).
Of course, exercise is important for general living anyway but one thing you mentioned can't be emphasised enough, which is drinking water - so many people don't drink enough of it and end up not only dehydrated but possibly having hallucinations and urine infections.
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on September 06, 2017:
Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on September 05, 2017:
Excellent article for treating shortness of breath. I've never experienced this and I imagine it must be scary. Thanks for all the information and wonderful photos.
Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on September 05, 2017:
Very informative article on short breathing problems. I sometimes experience tight breathing when tense or tired too much.
Thanks for sharing your experiences.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 04, 2017:
Very cool stuff. These were great. So my oncology center has deep breathing meditation and chair yoga. Wow does that free up that lower back and chest. I like yours that I can do in my office.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 04, 2017:
My dad died of a heart attack when he was 49 yrs old...this is an important article about an important topic....pay attention, all of you!