How can I exercise with a paralyzed diaphragm?

National Academy of Sports Medicine
National Academy of Sports Medicine

Paralysis of the diaphragm is not common and symptoms can vary. Diaphragmatic paralysis can affect one or both sides of the diaphragm. Paralysis of only one side of the diaphragm results in the decreased ability to expand the lungs during breathing. Each side works independently from the other, and most individuals have very little respiratory symptoms at rest. With exertion however, some individuals do experience shortness of breath, cough, and even chest pain.

Exercise tolerance will highly depend on the individual and any disorders that may be associated. Those individuals with mild or no symptoms should begin with physical therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, and seek counseling for weight loss if overweight. Individuals with significant symptoms such as poor exercise tolerance, chest pain, chronic bronchitis, and recurring pneumonia, should seek the advice of a specialized physician.

In general, exercise should be alright to perform, but you may need to progress into it and consult your physician on the best strategy. Some tips to consider: Try to avoid exercising in seated positions as well as while lying on your back. Total lung capacity is slightly decreased in these positions. Also, practice deep breathing exercises to help improve your body’s response to the demands associated with breathing.

Here is an exercise to try: While standing, place one of your hands on your stomach and the other hand on your chest. Next, inhale by taking a slow, long, deep breath for a count of 4 seconds. Make sure your stomach rises out farther than your chest. Hold your breath in for up to 10 seconds or as can be tolerated (be sure you are counting while you are holding your breath). Then, slowly exhale for a count of up to 8 seconds, or as can be tolerated. Repeat this for a total of 5 times. Stop the exercise if you begin to feel light-headed or dizzy.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.