Do wind players have specialised lungs?

10 September 2019

WIND INSTRUMENT

WIND INSTRUMENT

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Question

Do wind players have specialised lungs?

Answer

Chris Smith put Bruce's question to Anglia Ruskin University's Dan Gordon...

Dan - This is actually a really interesting question. The answer is no. I think it's quite surprising. So there's been a number of studies that have been done, where they've compared using different methods. The classic method is just using measures of respiratory function. So looking at total lung capacities, measuring things like fractional extraction - so you measure the amount of air that's extracted in one second for example - looking at residual volumes  - you’ll have a residual volume. If you don't have residual volume, the lung collapses.

So they've measured all of these and actually what they found is when you compare one instrument player to a non instrument player there is no difference in any of these measures at all. What is different of course is the way in which the lungs are used. There are differences for example in the strength of the diaphragm. There are differences in the way in which the lung is filled, but the thing I found really fascinating about this, which actually when I sat down and thought about it I though actually makes an awful lot of sense, is the wind instrument players actually have a lot of inflammation in the lung. A lot of lung damage.

And actually put into the context of athletes, if you are doing vast amounts of repeat work where you're stressing something to its maximum you cause inflammatory responses. And so what they’re finding in wind instrument players is actually if you measure their lung function on a scale, it looks worse than the general population, because they've just caused these inflammatory responses.

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