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When I was younger I once choked on some food and started coughing heavily, my Dad then told me to raise my arm in the air in order to "help raise the diaphragm". It actually helped with the coughing and helped me breath better. Since then I'm used to doing it. Does that really help, are there any medical proof or is it a urban legend ?

  • Can you find any other sources for the claim? – matt_black Aug 21 '14 at 13:48
  • @matt_black Yes : Here or this comment here or this Yahoo answer (but I'm not familiar with the trustworthiness of yahoo answer which is why I asked here) – WizLiz Aug 21 '14 at 14:48
  • I read recently you are unable to raise your arms if you are truly choking. Perhaps the purpose of the phrase got lost. If the person who's choking can't raise their hands on command, they aren't truly choking, or yet anyways. – user34342 Jun 10 '16 at 22:12
  • I know this is skeptics.SE and anecdotal evidence doesn't count, so comment, not answer. I had three seperate accidents as a kid / youth involving falling hard on my posterior. All three times I found myself basically unable to breathe. The first time I dragged myself to my PE teacher (who had missed the incident), trying to make him aware of my plight. (Being very scared, as you can imagine.) He lifted my arms, and I was immediately able to breathe again. I did this on my own on the other two incidents, and found that, each time, the feeling of "can't breathe" went away immediately. – DevSolar Jun 14 '16 at 12:36
  • (ctd.) This was not choking, no blocked windpipe, but -- I guess -- some kind of paralizing effect from the blow to my rump. First time was a miscalculated vault in gymnastics, the second time was a mishappen landing at the bottom of a slide, the third was a fall from the parallel bars (also in gymnastics). (I didn't like gymnastics much anymore after that one.) – DevSolar Jun 14 '16 at 12:42
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With arms raised oxygen uptake is increased for normal breathing, see Couser JI, Martinez FJ & Celli BR (1992):

The increases in [oxygen uptake], [carbon dioxide production], [minute ventilation], and [tidal volume] during arm elevation persisted. for 2 min after arm lowering (...) We conclude that simple arm elevation during tidal breathing results in significant increases in metabolic and ventilatory requirements.

Unless the esophagus is fully blocked Raising the arms will therefore increase oxygen uptake in healthy people, which may make you feel like you are not choking anymore.

Note though that raising the arms is not an appropriate method to help a person who is actually choking. Unless the person is able to breathe adequately the Heimlich maneuver should be performed if coughing does not solve the problem.

[warning, anecdotal] My tennis trainer always told us to put our arms up and breathe in when panting after a demanding exercise. During Yoga and other 'breathing exercises' the arms are usually also repositioned to either limit or maximize lung volume.

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    I followed up with a separate question: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/22964/… – Oddthinking Aug 22 '14 at 2:43
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    I'd be happy to update it with whatever does turn out to be the best thing to do. It was an addendum after I realized people would deduce that it's a good solution to raise your arms instead of better approaches. – Spork Aug 22 '14 at 9:10
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    Please add support for your claim that the cause is "the diaphragm rises"? That sounds wrong to me: I'd expect lung capacity to increase if the diaphragm drops and/or if the rib-cage rises; I also expect that what matters isn't the total capacity, but rather the difference in volume between full and and empty. – ChrisW Jun 17 '15 at 8:04
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    @ChrisW that is definitely a good point.. I'll remove that whole paragraph - I can't find good sources to show how it does indeed move, although I'm no longer convinced it rises. I'll let the experimental results stand without it. – Spork Jun 17 '15 at 10:19
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    @SeanDuggan A bit late, but the Silvestor method seems to be have been performed for resuscitation, not to increase airflow (that is, it does aim to get a person breathing again, but not after choking..) – Spork Jun 17 '15 at 11:03

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