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Outing Respiratory Challenges - Allergies!

Outing Respiratory Challenges
© Mike Macy, LMT


With road dust everywhere and pollen just around the corner, spring is the perfect time to talk about lungs.

The lung’s primary role is exchanging CO2 from the blood for O2 from the atmosphere. With any luck and a healthy environment, our lungs will function faithfully from the moment we’re born until the day we die. In fact, for most of us, breathing is so effortless and automatic that we don’t give it a moment’s thought—even though even the healthiest of us have significant lung restrictions.

These restrictions stem from inhalants (dust, particulates, second hand smoke, petrol, paint, and cleanser fumes), infections, vaccinations, physical, surgical, and emotional trauma, stress, and restrictions elsewhere in the body. Since most of us have seen pictures of what inhalants do to the lungs, let’s focus on some of the less obvious problem sources.

When we fall, forces tend to converge in the anterior thorax, gradually diminishing its flexibility and volume.

The lungs and heart are also favorite repositories for emotional overloads. An overload is simply any amount of feeling, issue, belief, or attitude that we are unable to deal with at a particular moment. They occur frequently. When they do, our nervous system automatically dumps the content into our tissues without our awareness. There it sits, impeding motion and gas exchange.

Stress diminishes lung capacity in several ways. For starters, we tend to respond by breathing less, but stress also tightens our most import breathing muscle, the respiratory diaphragm. At age 6 months, we develop a stress reflex wherein the whole front of the body and the diaphragm tightens, thereby drastically reducing our lung’s ability to exchange air. Like all reflexes, the stress reflex is hard-wired and automatic. Fortunately, a simple exercise will reverse it in minutes.

Traditional Chinese Medicine associates the lungs with grief, but the lung is not that selective. I’ve found all kinds of emotions, issues, beliefs and attitudes in the lungs.

Dr. Jean Pierre Barral, DO was among the first to realize that lung diseases affected all the abdominal organs. It has long been known that all body structures need to be able to move passively to accommodate the movements of other body structures. That’s mobility. Dr. Barral discovered another type of movement, motility, with his hands. Now verified with modern imaging devices, motility is an organ’s active movement around its own internal axis and is essential to organ function and vitality.

In the lungs, motility is paired between left and right lung, around mostly vertical axes. Motilities should be balanced, with both sides moving up, back, and out and then down, forward equally and in sync. Almost anyone can see how well lungs inflate and deflate, even through the overlying clothing, but feeling lung motilities with our hands takes training. Indeed, with experience, we sometimes feel lung restrictions from as far away as the ankles. On many new patients, lung restrictions are one of the first things I notice when I cradle their head in my palms. And those restrictions don’t just impede air exchange, with each inhalation they jam the head down on the neck and compress the lumbar vertebrae. Thanks to 4.5 million inhalations per year, over time, they can destroy cervical and lumbar vertebrae.

Breathing interference can come from anywhere. For example, the mediastinum, which separates right and left lungs and houses the heart and esophagus, can become tight, interfering with heart and lung motilities and function. Falls, whiplash, and infections, can also upset the balance between the lungs and neighboring organs like the liver and stomach, impeding diaphragmatic contractions. Kidney, colon, and small intestine restrictions can also inhibit inhalation.

In other words, lung restrictions are ubiquitous. This partly explains why lung volumes steadily diminish over a lifetime even in healthy persons and elite athletes. Often, the onset is so gradual and subtle, that most of my patients aren’t even aware that they have lung restrictions. Once we release them, however, the patient exclaims, “Wow! I can breathe! I didn’t even realize I had a lung restriction!”

With the lungs, as elsewhere, it’s easier to protect the lungs than repair them after they’ve been damaged. Simple measures include staying indoors during air quality alerts and wearing a respirator when sweeping the driveway or waxing your skis. However, even if you have restrictions, all is not lost. Manual therapists can enlist the immune system to repair lung damage and have many techniques for restoring mobility.

Your mechanic changes the air filter in your car every couple of years, more often if you frequent dirt roads. Perhaps, you should consider some maintenance for your lungs. You might be pleasantly surprised in what you’ll gain in increased energy and performance, not to mention to decreasing your susceptibility to spinal challenges, infections, and allergies.