Pulmonary fibrosis

Pulmonary fibrosis - ways to help your breathing

If you have pulmonary fibrosis, you may tend to breathe very fast and shallowly - a bit like panting.

You can use techniques and positions to help you control and slow down your breathing. You can also use them to avoid getting too breathless when you exert yourself, and help yourself to recover when you do get out of breath.

Talk to your respiratory physiotherapist or nurse for help to find out what works for you. Try the different breathing techniques to find what helps you and practise the ones that help.

Our suggestions are based on what physiotherapists find works, as little research has been done with people living with pulmonary fibrosis.

Breathing positions

Use these positions to practise your breathing control or to recover your breath.

Breathing position - sitting upright in a firm chairSit upright in a firm chair

If your chair doesn't have arms, rest your arms on your thighs. Let your wrists and hands go limp.



Breathing position - stand leaning back or sidewaysStand leaning back or sideways

Have your feet slightly apart, about one foot or 30cms away from the wall. Relax your hands down by your sides. If you prefer, rest your hands or thumbs in your waistband or belt loops, or across the shoulder strap of your handbag.



Breathing position - lying on your side with pillowsHigh side lying

Lie on your side with pillows under your head and shoulders. Make sure the top pillow supports your head and neck. Slightly bend your knees, hips and top leg.


Breathing control using your diaphragm

Breathing control means breathing gently, using the least effort. It will help when you’re short of breath or feeling anxious. This type of breathing is commonly used in yoga.

Use this breathing control combined with any of the techniques below.

You use your diaphragm - a big umbrella of muscle that’s under your lungs, at the bottom of your rib cage. It contracts when you breathe, so pulling the lungs down, stretching and expanding them.

To get used to this, it helps to practise when you’re sitting, and are relaxed and not out of breath. You’ll then be able to use it when you are breathless, or to reduce your shortness of breath when you’re exerting yourself.

Get into a comfortable position, with your arms supported. Let your shoulders and body be relaxed and loose.

  • Put one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen (tummy)
  • Close your eyes to help you relax and focus on your breathing
  • Slowly breathe in through your nose, with your mouth closed. If you’re relaxed, the air will reach low in your lungs. You’ll feel your abdomen rise – it will move out against your hand. The hand on your chest will not move much at all
  • Breathe out through your mouth, either like a sigh or through pursed lips. Your abdomen will fall gently. Imagine all the tension in your body leaving as you let the air out
  • Try to use as little effort as possible and make your breaths slow, relaxed and smooth. With every breath out, try to feel more relaxed and calm. Gradually try to breathe more slowly

Try the positions above to help you practise your breathing control, or to help you recover your breath when you get breathless. Your physiotherapist can help you find the positions that work best for you too.

There’s more detail in patient information leaflets developed by the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care.

Breathing techniques

Relaxed slow deep breathing

Relaxed slow deep breathing is very useful while you’re active. Use it from the very start of an activity that makes you out of breath such as walking or making the bed.

How do I do it?

As you start to exert yourself, slow down your breathing and breathe in more deeply. Breathe in through your nose if you can. Use it with blow-as-you-go or paced breathing and pursed-lips breathing if that helps.


Blow-as-you-go helps make tasks and activities easier. Use it while you’re doing something that makes you breathless. You can use it with pursed-lips breathing.

How do I do it?

Breathe in before you make the effort. Then breathe out while you’re making the effort. For example, when going up a step or standing up, breathe in before you stand or step up, and then blow out as you step or stand up. Try using pursed-lips as you blow out.

Paced breathing

Paced breathing is useful when you are active, for example, walking or climbing stairs. You pace your steps to your breathing. You can use it at the same time as pursed-lips breathing and blow-as-you-go.

How do I do it?

Count to yourself as you walk (or move). For example, breathe in for one step and then take either one or two steps as you breathe out.

You can take more steps as you breathe in or as you breathe out, if that feels better for you. The right number for you will depend on you.

It’s worth trying different combinations to find the one that works best for you - for example, one step in, two steps out, or two steps in, three steps out.

Pursed-lips breathing

Pursed-lips breathing can be used at any time to help you control your breathing.

How do I do it?

Breathe in gently through your nose, then purse your lips as though you’re going to blow out a candle. Blow out with your lips in this pursed position. Imagine blowing out a candle when you breathe out. Blow out only for as long as is comfortable – don’t force your lungs to empty.

There’s more detail in patient information leaflets developed by the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care.

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Last medically reviewed: August 2016. Due for review: August 2019

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.