COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is a disease of the airways that can be treated and prevented. It can however reduce a person’s quality of life and limit a person’s overall physical function if not managed correctly.

Signs and Symptoms of COPD

cough, fatique, wheezing, shortness of breath

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Ongoing cough
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty performing daily activities due to breathlessness
  • Increased amounts of phlegm

COPD is can be caused by a few factors:

  1. SMOKING is the leading cause of COPD. Long-term exposure to secondary tobacco/cigarette smoke can also cause COPD.
  2. Occupational exposure to certain workplace dust and chemicals. For example, exposure to dust associated with coal and gold mining and the cotton industry.
  3. Genetics may play a role in COPD.
  4. Auto-immune causes are also a possibility and there appears to be growing evidence for it. For example, there is sometimes continued inflammation in the lungs of people who have stopped smoking years ago and this continuous inflammation may be due to the body fighting itself.

COPD includes asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. There are times when a person with COPD has a combination of asthma, chronic bronchitis and/or emphysema at the same time. Chronic bronchitis occurs when the airways leading to the lungs become inflamed and there is more phlegm produced than normal. Emphysema is caused by damage to the parts of the lung that need to be filled with air (alveoli). Please see our article on Asthma for more information on this topic.

Physiotherapy plays an important role in managing COPD. Physiotherapy in the form of respiratory rehabilitation improves both a person’s quality of life and also how well they function during daily activities. It includes strength and endurance exercises and breathing exercises. Strength exercises can be done with weights, resistance bands or bodyweight and endurance exercise, which includes activities such as walking, jogging, cycling and swimming.

The type and intensity of exercise need to be determined by your physiotherapist. Studies have shown that reduced exercise tolerance (decreased ability to perform physical exercise) is closely linked to people being admitted or readmitted to hospital, so improving the ability to exercise is very important.

Some benefits of respiratory rehabilitation

benefits of respiratory rehabilitation

Graphic courtesy of The Cardiac Wellness Institute

Physiotherapists can also show you certain chest physiotherapy techniques that can be used to reduce phlegm and to help slow your breathing down. There are also resting positions and breathing exercises that can help to relieve breathlessness. Some examples of breathing exercises and resting positions are given below. If, however, the below exercises are not sufficient, please contact your closest Lamberti Physio so that we can help you with a programme that is better suited to your condition.

breathing techniques

best positions to reduce shortness of breath when suffering from COPD




COPD balloon breathing

Picture courtesy of www.littletwistersyoga.com

This article was submitted by Wendy Snyders Associate Manager at the Tygervalley Practice of Lamberti Physiotherapy. If you’d like to discuss options with symptoms you may be experiencing, use this handy appointment form to get in touch.


  1. Garrod and Lasserson (2006). Role of physiotherapy in the management of chronic lung diseases: An overview of systematic reviews. Respiratory Medicine 101: 2429–2436
  2. Guëll et al (2000). Long-term Effects of Outpatient Rehabilitation of COPD: A Randomized Trial. Chest 117:976–983
  3. De Roos et al (2015). Effectiveness of a combined exercise training and home-based walking programme on physical activity compared with standard medical care in moderate COPD: a randomised controlled trial. Physiotherapy 104: 116–121
  4. https://www.csp.org.uk/public-patient/common-conditions/copd
  5. https://www.physio-pedia.com/COPD_(Chronic_Obstructive_Pulmonary_Disease)