The Best Position for COPD Patients to Ease Breathing

September 12, 2023

COPD patient positionLiving with a lung disease like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) can be challenging, especially with persistent shortness of breath. People with COPD often encounter trouble keeping up with daily activities and may struggle with difficulty breathing when lying down. The right resting or sleeping position, however, can provide much-needed relief. In this blog, we will explore the best positions for COPD patients to ease breathing while resting or sleeping and highlight the benefits of each position. 

What is COPD?

COPD encompasses a group of conditions that cause breathing-related problems, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It is a progressive disease, which means it gets worse over time. Common COPD symptoms include frequent coughing or wheezing, excess phlegm or mucus production, and shortness of breath. 

Best Positions for COPD Patients 

Several positions are beneficial for COPD patients in order to minimize discomfort and avoid complications when resting or sleeping. These specific positions can help improve oxygen levels, facilitate lung expansion, and prevent mucus buildup.  

Tripod Position: The tripod position is widely regarded as one of the best positions for those experiencing breathing difficulty. To assume this position, the patient sits on the bed or chair with feet apart and leans forward, placing their elbows on their knees or on an overbed table. Wherever the patient rests their elbows, it is important to place a pillow or some form of padding for comfort and support. This position helps to open up the chest, making it easier for the air to flow in and out of the lungs.   

Lateral Position: The lateral position, in which a patient lies on their side with their top leg in front of the bottom leg and the hip and knee flexed, is another recommended position for COPD patients. Sleeping in this position helps to promote the clearance of mucus and fluids that may have accumulated in the lungs as a result of COPD.  

It is essential to ensure the head and the neck are well-supported with positioners or pillows to prevent straining the spine or neck muscles. To support the spine, a positioning bolster or wedge is recommended—AliMed® Body Positioning Wedges, for example, are ideal for side-lying support and trunk stabilization. A soft roll like the SkiL-Care™ Ultra-Soft Bed Bolster placed between the knees helps reduce pressure and provide additional comfort.  

Semi-Fowler's Position: The Semi-Fowler's position is where the patient sleeps or rests on their back with the head and upper body raised to a 45-degree angle and the knees slightly bent. This position is useful for COPD patients because it helps to increase lung capacity and promotes breathing, preventing the lungs from falling back into the chest and compressing the airways.  

This position can be achieved by using pillows or positioners to raise the head and upper body or by adjusting the head of the bed. SkiL-Care™ Elevating Bed Wedges can be used to comfortably support the head and upper body, while AliMed® Covered Foam Bed Wedges provide support and pressure relief for the knees and lower body. 

Living with COPD can be distressing, but adopting the right positions while resting or sleeping can help alleviate common symptoms. However, the “best” position for any patient depends on their particular situation—those with COPD should consult their healthcare provider to discuss which positions will work well for them.


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