Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Keywords: Lungs, smoking, cardiorespiratory, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, physiotherapy

ALex Hough

The following information has been provided by Alex Hough. Be sure to check out her fantastic website which has loads of resources and reading lists. She has kindly given permission for others to use her advice sheets however you will need to assess whether the suitable for your patients, adjust them as appropriate, and if using them in the NHS;

  • Get them checked by your Trust
  • Add your name and contact details.
  • Go through them with patients and sign them before handing them out.


Find out more about Alex at


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

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How your lungs work (and what happens when they don’t)?

Your lungs are like an upside-down tree, made up of AIRWAYS, which transmit oxygen down to your AIR LungsSACS (alveoli), where oxygen is passed into your blood stream and carbon-dioxide is removed.

Your diaphragm is a big dome-shaped muscle separating your chest cavity from your abdominal cavity.  When you breathe in, it contracts and shortens, using your abdominal contents as a lever, which is why your lower ribs normally move outwards.  In most people, the diaphragm shortens and becomes flat when it contracts, thus pulling down and enlarging the thoracic cavity.  This makes the lungs bigger and so that air is drawn in through the nose (and/or mouth).

If you have COPD, your lungs are over-distended (like an overinflated balloon); this is because the walls of some of your air sacs have broken down so that instead of having lots of little air sacs you have fewer big air sacs, leaving less surface area for the oxygen to cross over into your blood stream.

   Normal lungs, with a 

dome-shaped diaphragm:                                COPD lungs, with a flat diaphragm:

Normal lungs

Copd Lungs  

Read more


Physiowizz would like to thank Alex for her kind contributions and dedication to sharing knowledge. Please check out loads more resources at her own site. Original download can be found here..  COPD

            Alex Hough, Respiratory Physiotherapist,,


Extensive references lists can also be found on Alex Hough’s site :
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