Is It Possible to Run After Having a Collapsed Lung?

A reader suffering from pneumothorax wonders whether running will ever be an option again.

I had pneumothorax [a collapsed lung] about two months ago in my left lung. Is there any possibility that I’ll be able to go running again? What’s the timeline for something like this? Are there other sports that I can do in the meantime?

The short answer is yes, you should be able to return to running once the pneumothorax is fixed and healed. Every runner I have cared for with your condition has returned to running, but your particular circumstances will determine when. Most of my patients have returned to their sport after two to three months, give or take a little.

Here’s what happens when a lung collapses: there is a membrane surrounding the lungs called the pleura. The pleura helps your lungs expand and contract smoothly when you breathe. When air leaks into the space between the pleura and the lung, it puts pressure on the lung, which collapses.

For a large collapse, a tube is placed between the ribs, into the pleural space, to let the air out and re-inflate the lung.

With a smaller collapse, an invasive chest tube is not needed. Instead, the air will usually dissipate over time, allowing the lung to re-inflate.

For some people dealing with multiple lung collapses, doctors will perform a procedure to scar the pleura. This helps the inside surfaces stick to each other, so the pleura can no longer admit air.

Most collapsed lungs are caused by a mechanical defect in the pleura or the lung, such as a popped air sac. There is not necessarily an underlying disease causing the problem. Smokers, however, are at greater risk. Since you run, I am assuming you do not smoke. But if you do, I hope this will give you another reason to quit.

Once your lung is re-inflated and the pleura is healed, you can slowly return to running and other activities. When, exactly, will vary from person to person and you should develop a plan with your physician.

Your return will likely start after your lung is fully inflated, when you can breathe easily and without discomfort. I wish I could give you a clearer answer, however there are no standard or evidence-based guidelines for this. I took care of a hockey player who developed a 15 per cent pneumothorax after a hard check into the boards. This was on a Wednesday evening. He was instructed not to play hockey until he was re-evaluated the following week. However, his picture was in the Sunday paper, dunking a basketball on the playground.

Clearly, some people recover very quickly. I would work with your physician and progress back to running when your lung seems stable on x-ray and you have not had any symptoms with your normal daily activities.


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