How Does The Tripod Position Help People With COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of progressive lung diseases that cause shortness of breath as a common symptom. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two most common types of lung diseases under the umbrella of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The feeling of breathlessness is bound to cause panic and anxiety, and it can even lead to a fall in your oxygen levels. While there are several medications and a variety of treatments for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, many people use breathing exercises and positioning techniques like the tripod position to help them when they feel short of breath. Let’s take a look to see if the tripod position can help in COPD.

What is the Tripod Position?

The tripod position is a technique in which you position your body to help relieve shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea. It is likely that you have used this position several times before, perhaps after carrying out an intense exercise session after which you tried to catch your breath. To put it simply, the tripod position requires you to bend forward to alleviate shortness of breath and also help decrease the amount of work your lungs have to do.(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

How to Perform the Tripod Position?

While tripod position can come naturally to many people when they feel short of breath, using the tripod position as a physiotherapy technique happens to be a bit more specific.

You can use the tripod position while you are standing or sitting. If you are sitting, having a pillow or tabletop may help. Or you can simply lean forward and use your legs as support. If you are standing, finding a chair or something sturdy to lean on will be helpful.

Here are the steps to focus on to get into the tripod position while you are seated:

Before you begin the tripod position, it is absolutely important to make sure that you are in a safe location. If you are feeling shortness of breath, it can be easy to fall or lose consciousness. So it is important that there is somebody around in case you need medical assistance.

  1. Choose a sturdy chair and sit down in a comfortable position.
  2. Slowly lean forward while using your elbows and arms as support.
  3. You should ideally try to get into an angle of around 45 degrees as you lean forward.
  4. Rely on your arms or use a pillow or tabletop to help you hold the position.
  5. Take steady and slow breaths while focusing on using your belly (diaphragm) to breathe.

Along with this, you can also use other breathing techniques like pursed-lip breathing to help reduce the shortness of breath.(7,8)

How Does The Tripod Position Help People With COPD?

Even though the tripod position may appear to be a very simplistic method to treat shortness of breath, but it is what happens inside your body when you assume this position that has the most impact on reducing shortness of breath in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

When you lean forward in the tripod position, it takes off some of the pressure of breathing from your lungs. The effort that your diaphragm, which is the primary muscle the body uses to inhale, goes up in the tripod position. Furthermore, gravity helps the muscle to move downwards, increasing the space inside your thoracic cavity. The thoracic cavity houses your lungs, and having extra room inside and around your lungs in this position, helps them expand more, which in turn helps increase your oxygen intake and release carbon dioxide.(9,10)

How is COPD Treated?

The treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease involves a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, and physical therapies. The tripod position can only be used as a helpful strategy to deal with the symptom of shortness of breath.

The very first step to treating COPD is to change your lifestyle and move towards a healthier lifestyle. You have to remove anything that might have contributed to the development of this disease in the first place. This can include factors like reducing environmental toxins. (11,12,13) For many people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, smoking is usually a major underlying cause. Quitting smoking can help slow down the progression of the disease, though it won’t cure the damage that has already been done.(14,15,16)

If your COPD has already advanced to the level that it has started causing symptoms that impact your day-to-day life, your doctor is likely to prescribe medications like:

  • Short-acting and long-acting bronchodilator inhalers
  • Steroid inhalers
  • Beta-2 agonist inhalers
  • Anticholinergic inhalers
  • Various combinations of beta-2 agonist, anticholinergic, and steroid inhalers
  • Oral steroids for severe cases

Physical therapy is also sometimes recommended. Your doctor might even suggest a pulmonary rehabilitation program that will help you learn and develop breathing techniques to help you when you feel short of breath.(17, 18)

You will also be advised on how to avoid catching infections or exacerbations that can make your condition worse.

If your disease is at a severe stage that it is causing your oxygen levels to fall, your doctor might recommend oxygen therapy or even advise you to go for surgery like lung volume reduction surgery or a bullectomy.(19)

It is likely that your treatment regimen will continue to change over time and as you experience flare-ups. You may have to use a combination of treatments to keep your disease under control and manage any acute exacerbations.

Conclusion

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a chronic disease that tends to get worse with time for most patients. Medications and oxygen therapy are known to help manage the condition, but there are some body positions like the tripod position and breathing techniques that can help you deal with flare-ups or symptoms like shortness of breath. The tripod position helps to lower your diaphragm and opens up your lung space to reduce the shortness of breath. If you are not able to catch your breath using the tripod position, you should seek medical assistance at the earliest.

References:

  1. Bhatt, S.P., Guleria, R., Luqman-Arafath, T.K., Gupta, A.K., Mohan, A., Nanda, S. and Stoltzfus, J.C., 2009. Effect of tripod position on objective parameters of respiratory function in stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The Indian journal of chest diseases & allied sciences, 51(2), p.83.
  2. Zuriati, Z. and Surya, M., 2020. Effectiveness Active Cycle of Breathing Technique (ACBT) with Pursed Lips Breathing Technique (PLBT) to tripod position in increase oxygen saturation in patients with COPD, West Sumatera. Enfermería Clínica, 30, pp.164-167.
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