Posture is a powerful force in our lives. In fact, nearly every aspect of our health relates to posture in one way or another (including cough). For example:
- Our muscles may be chronically tight and/or pathologically weak due to poor posture.
- The nerves throughout our bodies may be unable to conduct impulses as efficiently without proper posture.
- Less-than-ideal posture may restrict our pulmonary systems, inhibiting us from breathing and coughing effectively.
(How many readers just sat up straighter after reviewing the points listed above?)
Believe it or not, respiratory therapists place a heavy emphasis on posture as it relates to coughs. There are even postural drainage techniques that address fluid build-up in specific parts of the lungs.
In this article, we will review how posture relates to breathing, coughing, and our health in general. Additionally, we’ll outline some tips that can help anyone improve their posture in no time.
Posture and Breathing
When we flex forward, we restrict our lungs and make it more difficult for them to expand during inhalation. Conversely, when we extend backward, it is more difficult to exhale effectively.
For these reasons, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, personal trainers, and other health professionals will often instruct clients on proper breathing patterns during exercise. Using these respiratory principles benefits competitive athletes as well as any other type of patient participating in exercise programs. No matter the goal or ability level, we all need to develop excellent breathing patterns to perform at our maximum potential.
Besides just during exercise, it’s critical that we maintain proper posture throughout the day. For instance, picture the typical desk worker after 8 hours of pouring over files and answering emails. It’s pretty easy to slouch after a few hours of trying to stay upright. But while a few minutes of slouching here and there isn’t likely to cause many problems, we put our health at risk by maintaining poor posture all day long.
(Who corrected their posture again after reading this last section?)
Posture and Cough
Similar to how it relates to normal breathing, posture during coughs is critically important to ensure that our bodies can clear whatever is bothering our respiratory systems.
In the past few years, multiple researchers have investigated how posture relates to cough. Each of the following studies examined posture and coughs with slightly different goals in mind.
The Breath Stacking Maneuver + The Best Posture to Encourage Cough
In a study from 2014, researchers found that when they positioned patients in a 45-degree incline, as opposed to fully supine (flat on their backs), the breath stacking maneuver improved cough flow significantly.
For those unfamiliar with the breath stacking maneuver, it is a technique that consists of the following steps:
- The patient inhales slightly.
- Without exhaling, the patient inhales more, “stacking” her breath on top of the first inhalation.
- After a few rounds of breath stacking, the patient exhales slowly.
- If she has produced secretions during this process, she is now encouraged to cough.
This technique is an excellent way to induce coughing in patients who have difficulty doing so. In addition, combining the breath stacking maneuver with proper posture improves the technique’s effectiveness to an appreciable degree: an increase in flow rate of about 17 percent.
Prone Posture and Cough
Another study was interested in how posture related to general respiratory capabilities and the strength of respiratory muscles in study subjects.
Study participants tended to produce more effective coughs in the position of 45-degree rotation from prone as opposed to seated and supine postures. Other respiratory measures also improved in the prone position.
This research, along with similar studies, has had important implications throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Many nurses and respiratory therapists had to become trained on proning patients who had contracted the coronavirus. Proning improved oxygenation in patients and some data seemed to show that this was an effective means of easing symptoms in these patients (barring any contraindications).
The “Head Up” Posture and Cough
In a 2013 study, researchers directly showed how posture relates to cough: participants showed improved coughing ability in a 45-degree head-up position as opposed to being seated or lying supine.
Posture and General Health
Pain, poor mood, and other negative health factors have been associated with long-term static seated postures. Besides the issues outlined in the previous sections pertaining to our respiratory systems, we continue to see how significantly posture can influence our health.
Therefore, it’s important that we highlight some general tips which can improve posture and by extension, our health.
*Note: these recommendations are not a substitute for medical advice. If you have questions about posture and your health, consult your doctor.
Ideal Seated Posture
When we sit, we should strive to maintain the 90-90-90 position. This means that our hips, knees, and ankles are bent to 90 degrees, with our feet flat on the floor.
Furthermore, we should strive to keep our backs comfortably straight and our heads looking forward (without keeping our necks excessively bent).
Last but not least, our wrists should be in a comfortable position, without extreme flexion or extension.
Each of these positions for the upper body, lower body, and trunk will serve to keep us in the best possible position when we are forced to sit for long periods.
If feasible, a standing desk is an excellent option for a desk worker. These ergonomic wonders allow workers to stand and move around throughout the day, often encouraging a better posture than sitting does.
Last but not least, yoga exercises are a wonderful way to incorporate postural movements into the average workday. Just a few minutes of yoga in the morning or evening (or both) will help keep the entire body flexible and able to maintain different postures. Additionally, these positions will encourage the lungs to open more fully, allowing for improved respiratory health.
Posture closely relates to cough and general health. Technology such as Hyfe, medications, and other therapeutic interventions are essential for many respiratory conditions. However, simply improving our posture can go a long way towards optimizing our pulmonary health.
Now that you’ve made it to the end of this article, how about a quick exercise session? Your body will thank you, and you’ll improve your posture, one workout at a time!