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Deep breathing after surgery

After surgery it is important to take an active role in your recovery. One way to do so is by doing deep breathing exercises.

Deep breathing keeps your lungs well-inflated and healthy while you heal. Many patients feel weak and sore after surgery, and taking big breaths can be uncomfortable. But if you do not practice deep breathing after surgery, you may develop lung problems, like pneumonia.

A device called an incentive spirometer can help you take deep breaths correctly. If you do not have this device, you can still practice deep breathing on your own.

How to Breathe Deeply

  • Sit upright. It may help to sit at the edge of the bed with your feet hanging over the side. If not, raise the head of your bed as high as you can.
  • If your surgical cut (incision) is on your chest or belly, you may need to hold a pillow tightly over your incision. This helps with some of the discomfort.
  • Take a few normal breaths, then take a slow, deep breath in.
  • Hold your breath for about 2 to 5 seconds.
  • Gently and slowly breathe out through your mouth. Make an "O" shape with your lips as you blow out, like blowing out birthday candles.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times, or as many times as your or nurse told you.
  • Do these deep-breathing exercises as directed by your doctor or nurse.

References

Kulaylat MN, Dayton MT. Surgical complications. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 13.

Restrepo RD, Wettstein R, Wittnebel L, Tracy M. Incentive spirometry, 2011. Respir Care. 2011;56:1600-1604.

Update Date: 2/7/2014

Updated by: John A. Daller, MD, PhD., Department of Surgery, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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