Shortness of breath

If you’ve ever felt you couldn’t breathe in enough air, you’ve experienced a condition known medically as dyspnea. However shortness of breath can be a symptom of health problems, often related to heart or lung disease. But you can also experience temporary dyspnea after an intense workout.

Breathlessness can be very distressing therefore feeling scared or anxious can make things worse by causing you to tighten your breathing muscles and breathe faster. However shortness of breath(dyspnea) or breathlessness is common for older people who have chronic conditions, including those that affect the heart and lungs.

Therefore these can include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, pneumonia,  and heart failure. Chronic breathlessness is the name given to the condition that makes everyday life difficult and persists despite treatment from your healthcare team.

Why am I becoming breathless?

Breathlessness can occur even when you are not exerting yourself because the heart and lungs have become less efficient at delivering oxygen-rich blood to – and removing carbon dioxide from – your body’s cells.
This may be due to:

  1. Inflamed and narrowed airways
  2. Stiff lung tissue
  3. Phlegm plugging the lungs
  4. Fluid in the heart or lungs
  5. Problems with the heart’s rhythm, valves or muscle tissue.

Dyspnea caused by medical conditions covers a wide range of health concerns. While they should all be evaluated by a doctor, conditions that bring on sudden breathlessness should be treated as emergencies. These include:

  1. heart failure
  2. low blood pressure
  3. pneumonia
  4. pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lungs)
  5. carbon monoxide poisoning
  6. stress or anxiety

Chronic breathlessness often develops gradually, so at first, you may just think you are unfit. However your breathlessness may be associated with wheezing, coughing and bringing up phlegm. The symptoms can feel different for everyone, but you may experience sensations such as chest tightness, finding it hard work to breathe or even feeling like you are suffocating.

So, how can a physio help?

Physiotherapy can therefore help you manage your shortness of breath by addressing three domains that make up the cycle of breathlessness – breathing, thinking and functioning.


  • The first line of treatment for chronic breathlessness is non-pharmacological measures, many of which physiotherapists can deliver.
  •  can deliver interventions including breathing training, skeletal muscle exercise and cool facial airflow.
  •  can assess breathlessness using a variety of tools, which can be as simple as using a scale from 1-10 for you to rate your breathlessness.


  • Physiotherapists can help you understand more about chronic breathlessness to reduce fear, activity avoidance and deconditioning.


  • Physiotherapists can deliver interventions that improve function (e.g. gait aids).
  • Physiotherapists can provide exercise training that improves physical fitness, which can improve your movement and daily routine.
  •  can support the carers of people who are breathless by identifying and responding to their needs.

So if you are having trouble catching your breath, our caring team at Chiropractic and Physiotherapy health center is ready to help. Breathing better can change the way you live your life and we would love to help you breathe better, move better and keep doing the important things in life.


By Sharanya Thomas

Feeling shortness of breath? A physical Therapist can help.

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