Struggling to breathe can be a very frightening experience. Known as dyspnoea, shortness of breath is a fairly common complaint recorded by all kinds of healthcare practitioners. Since dyspnoea can indicate one of many serious conditions, a cautionary approach is always warranted. As long as the cause is understood, managed and being monitored by a physician, acupressure applied to carefully chosen points has been proven to improve the ease of breathing.
Kinds of Dyspnoea
While it may be healthy to become short of breath after heavy exertion, breathlessness after routine walking or during rest is not normal. Particularly alarming if it comes on suddenly, dyspnoea could indicate heart failure. Described as the feeling of shortness of breath, dyspnoea should always be evaluated by a doctor to exclude any serious underlying pathology – and to help manage or treat the causative problem.
In general, breathlessness escalates with increasing amounts of exertion or exercise. Doctors grade the severity of breathlessness according to the degree of activity causing the symptom. Associated with shortness of breath at rest, grade four is the most severe type of dyspnoea. Often caused by cardiac disease, orthopnoea is breathlessness that worsens when lying down. Sometimes, the only problem fueling breathlessness is a poor fitness level. To distinguish between minor and serious health issues, it is crucial for those with this symptom to be properly evaluated.
Reasons for Breathlessness
From a diagnostic perspective, the general causes of dyspnoea include:
- Cardiac – Usually occurring when cardiac output is compromised, cardiac dyspnoea may be due to blocked blood vessels, valvular disease or arrhythmia.
- Pulmonary – A result of lung disease, pulmonary dyspnoea is usually caused by a narrowing or stiffening of the airways, which physically impairs the ability to take air into the lungs.
- Functional – Typically causing shallow, rapid breathing and hyperventilation, functional (or psychological) dyspnoea is often precipitated by anxiety or panic attacks.
Other less common causes of dyspnoea include anemia, a collapsed lung or blood clots within the lungs. Whether acute or chronic, all problems with breathing should be evaluated by a physician. Although dyspnoea may be harmless and easily treated, some cases require emergency medical intervention.
COPD Causing Dyspnoea
One of the more common causes of pulmonary dyspnoea is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease in which the lungs are damaged, making it hard to breathe. The airways of people with COPD are partly obstructed, making it difficult to get air in and out. A few facts about COPD include:
- Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of COPD.
- COPD develops slowly, and is typically diagnosed in middle-aged or older people.
- As the fourth leading reason for fatalities in the United States, COPD is a major cause of death and illness.
- Because the damage to airways and lungs cannot be reversed, there is no cure for COPD. However, there are ways to relieve dyspnoea and slow future damage.
- COPD is not contagious.
Acupressure for COPD
Although there is no cure for those living with COPD, there are some ways to help relieve the accompanying dyspnoea. Massage therapists practicing acupressure have a proven technique for delivering this much sought after relief. As published in an edition of Journal of Advanced Nursing, Taiwanese researchers found that acupressure significantly improved dyspnoea in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
By comparing the results of true acupressure with sham acupressure, this study examined how specific acupressure point stimulation impacted those with COPD.
Participants in the true acupressure group had the following five points stimulated five times a week, for 16 minutes per session for four weeks:
- Governing Vessel 14 – Located just below the spinous process of the 7th cervical vertebrae, this point is known as the intersecting point of all the yang meridians and influences energy flow in the upper part of the body.
- Conception Vessel 22 – Located at the notch in the superior aspect of the suprasternal fossa, this point is known to help relieve energetic stagnation in the chest.
- Bladder 13 – Approximately 1 to 2 inches lateral to the third thoracic vertebrae, this is the primary point used for lung conditions.
- Bladder 23 – Approximately 1 to 2 inches lateral to the second lumbar vertebrae, this point strengthens the kidneys, the organ system responsible for healthy air inspiration.
- Lung 10 – Located on the radial aspect of the 1st metacarpal at the midpoint of the bone at the junction of the red and white skin, this point is known to clear lung heat, an imbalance contributing to breathing difficulties.
The researchers found that the participants receiving acupressure on this group of points had a reduction in dyspnoea and improved pulmonary function at the conclusion of the four weeks. “We found significantly greater improvements in patients receiving acupressure at true acupoints compared with those receiving acupressure at sham points,” state the study’s authors. “This improvement related to all the variables studied and suggests that people with [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] would benefit from acupressure at true acupoints.”
Although strategically applied acupressure can improve a person’s ability to breathe, it does not serve as a substitute for medical treatment. Grappling with breathlessness is a serious problem and must always be brought to a qualified physician’s attention. A bodyworker should only consider working on a client with respiratory dyspnoea if they are currently under a doctor’s care. With the assurance that their breathlessness does not pose a serious health threat, conducting acupressure sessions on Governing Vessel 14, Conception Vessel 22, Bladder 13, Bladder 23 and Lung 10 can help relieve clients of their struggle to breathe.
www.cardionetics.com, Symptoms of Heart Disease: Dysponea, Cardionetics Ltd., 2008.
www.massagemag.com, Acupressure Eases Dysponea, Massage Magazine Inc., 2008.
www.nhlbi.nih.gov, What is COPD?, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, 2008.
www.virtualcardiaccentre.com, Breathlessness, Virtual Medical Centre, 2008.