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Best Positions to Reduce Shortness of Breath

Best Positions to Reduce Shortness of Breath

People living with chronic lung diseases often experience shortness of breath. Most people feel that shortness of breath is one of the most concerning symptoms of chronic lung diseases. Chronic lung diseases make it difficult for people to breathe normally, so people often have trouble maintaining adequate blood oxygen levels.

The respiratory system brings oxygen into the body and delivers it to the body. The soft, spongy lungs don’t have any muscles within them, so they need surrounding muscles and bones to help them work. During shortness of breath, it can feel as though you aren’t able to breathe normally. We’re here to help with the information you need about breathlessness and the best positions to reduce shortness of breath.

What Muscles Are Used for Breathing?

To better understand shortness of breath, it’s important to know about the muscles used for breathing. Breathing can be a voluntary or involuntary act. For example, you can voluntarily hold your breath or take a slow, deep breath. Involuntary breathing occurs when you breathe without thinking about breathing at all, such as when you sleep.

Because the lungs themselves don’t contain any muscles, they need help from muscles within the body. The intercostal muscles are small and numerous muscles situated between each rib and on each side of each rib. The intercostal muscles help enlarge the chest cavity and contract to pull the ribcage both upward and outward as you inhale.

The diaphragm is the most important muscle to breathing. In fact, the diaphragm has its own nerve supply and can work involuntarily and voluntarily. The diaphragm works like a vacuum. When the diaphragm contracts during inhalation, it goes down toward the stomach, expands the lungs and pulls new air into them. During exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes and moves back to its original position. As the diaphragm relaxes, it and the intercostal muscles in the ribcage push old air back out of the lungs. The intercostal muscles also relax and reduce the space in the chest cavity.

Accessory Muscles

If you are under stress, have an injury or are experiencing difficulty breathing, accessory muscles can help you breathe. Accessory muscles are not used during normal breathing. The accessory muscles sometimes used from breathing include the muscles in front of the neck, the chest pectorals and the abdominal muscles. For people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), air becomes trapped in the lungs and makes it harder for them to expel air. Many people with chronic lung diseases use accessory muscles to help them breathe in and out.

What is Shortness of Breath?

Shortness of breath is a common and often frightening symptom of chronic lung diseases. Many people describe breathlessness as air hunger. Shortness of breath makes people feel like they cannot fill their lungs with oxygen. Sometimes, shortness of breath happens suddenly and without a known cause. It often occurs with chest tightness and anxiety.

If you experience shortness of breath, follow your doctor’s instructions and use prescribed inhalers as directed by your doctor. While frightening, remember to stay calm and consider trying the following positions to reduce shortness of breath.

Best Positions to Reduce Shortness of Breath

In combination with the pursed lips breathing and the diaphragmatic breathing techniques, these positions to reduce feelings of shortness of breath can help you relax and reduce the sensation of breathlessness.

Sitting Positions to Reduce Shortness of Breath:

Typically, shortness of breath happens during activity, emotional experiences, bad or changing weather conditions or when you feel tense or stressed. Try these sitting positions to reduce shortness of breath:

Sitting Position A:

Best Positions to Reduce Shortness of Breath

  • Sit in a chair or in a comfortable position
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor
  • Lean your chest forward a little
  • Rest your elbows on your knees
  • Place your chin in your hands (if you feel comfortable doing so)
  • Relax your neck and shoulders as much as you can
  • Practice your breathing techniques

Sitting Position B:

Best Positions to Reduce Shortness of Breath

  • If a pillow is easily available, place it on a table
  • Sit in a chair at the table
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor
  • Lean your chest forward some
  • Place your arms on the table
  • Relax your head on your forearms (if a pillow isn’t available) or rest your head on the pillow
  • Use your breathing techniques

Standing Positions to Reduce Shortness of Breath:

Sometimes, shortness of breath happens suddenly. If a chair or a place to do the sitting positions isn’t available, give a standing position to reduce shortness of breath a try:

Standing Position A:

  • Find a sturdy wall
  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart
  • Lean your hips on the wall
  • Let your hands rest on your thighs
  • Allow your shoulders to relax
  • Lean forward slightly
  • Let your arms dangle in front of you
  • Remember to practice your breathing techniques

Best Positions to Reduce Shortness of Breath

Standing Position B:

  • Find a strong piece of furniture (just below shoulder height), such as a table
  • Stand at the furniture
  • Place your elbows or hands on the chosen furniture
  • Lean forward a little
  • Relax your neck and shoulders
  • You can rest your head on your forearms if your elbows are on the furniture
  • Utilize your breathing techniques

Sleeping Positions to Reduce Shortness of Breath:

If you’re at home or are awakened by an episode of shortness of breath, remain calm and consider these sleeping positions to reduce shortness of breath:

Sleeping Position A:

  • Lie on your side
  • Place a pillow between your knees
  • Elevate your head with a pillow or two
  • Keep your back as straight as possible
  • Relax and use your breathing techniques

Best Positions to Reduce Shortness of Breath

Sleeping Position B:

  • Lie on your back
  • Place a pillow under your knees, so your knees are bent
  • Elevate your head with a pillow or two
  • Allow yourself to relax
  • Practice your breathing techniques

Taking Steps Toward Easier Breathing

Following your doctor’s advice, taking your medications properly and learning about all of your treatment options helps you stay proactive in your healthcare. In combination with your current treatment plan and breathing techniques, we hope these positions to reduce shortness of breath help you stay calm and breathe easier.

For many people, stem cell therapy has helped them improve their quality of life, allowing them to spend more time with their family, grandchildren and loved ones. If you or a loved one has COPD, emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis or another chronic lung disease and would like to learn more about stem cell treatment options, contact us at (800) 729-3065.


  1. Lung Institute

    5 months ago


    Thank you. Our goal is to help people be as informed as possible so they can make a good decision on treatments.


    The Lung Institute

  2. Lung Institute

    5 months ago


    Thank you for the kind comments and congratulations on feeling improvement. Pollen season affects so many people and can be even worse for someone with a lung disease. Our research shows that more than 84 percent of our patients indicate an increase in their quality of life after treatment. We hope you continue to read and enjoy our articles, and we wish you the best.

    Kind regards,

    The Lung Institute

  3. Emma

    6 months ago

    This was very hdlpful, i already knew ALl THESE things but a DOCTOR told them to me…
    Its good that you know these things because not EVERYONE can GET to a doctor😊

  4. Nancy

    6 months ago

    This is a very informative article. I have severe COPD and use the purse lipped breathing technique. Now I no longer panic when I’m short of breath. i just stop whatever I’m doing and breathe in through my nose and out through my pursed lips. works like a charm!

  5. Rose Mary Fandrich

    6 months ago

    I had a stem cell treatment in the beginning of Mar. after about 6 weeks I felt a definite improvEment. I was not coughing as much and much less shortness of breath. Then came the pollen season and I Started coughing more, brInging Up more phleGm. My doctor suggested taking an Antihistamine. I didn’t think I needed an antihistamine as I didn’t have the itchy eye, runny nose symPtoms but decided to give it a try and it has really helped. I am back to just an occasional cough, bringing up very little phlegm and less shortness of breath. I went to Pulmonary Rehab for a few weeks and found that to be helpful also. The arTicles You send are of interest. I do feel bad that health insurances don’t cover more of the cost for treatment of pulmonary diseases. The cost of inhalers seems rIdiculously high. I hope that insurance coMpanies Will soon see the success of stem cell treatment and begin to cover it however health insurances are not always so interested in people’s health. They insist on you having tests that you don’t need and then don’t want to pay for the treatment that you need!

  6. Red Ashberry

    7 months ago

    A lot of good info in your article !!!

  7. Charles Restow

    7 months ago

    Thank you so much. The more I am informed the better it is for my condition..

  8. Phoebe

    10 months ago

    Dear Harold,

    Thanks for your comment. We’re glad to hear that you found our article helpful. We wish you the best.

    Best Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  9. Harold Purser

    10 months ago

    Thanks, I think this will HELP, me some !!! Keep up the good work !!!🍷🍷😀🍷🍷

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