Mechanics of Breathing

Normal, quiet inspiration results from muscle contraction, and normal expiration from muscle relaxation and elastic recoil. These actions can be forced by contractions of the accessory respiratory muscles. The amount of air inspired and expired can be measured in a number of ways to test pulmonary function.

The thorax must be sufficiently rigid to protect vital organs and provide attachments for a number of short, powerful muscles. However, breathing, or pulmonary ventilation, also requires a flexible thorax that can function as a bellows during the ventilation cycle. The structure of the rib cage and associated cartilages provides continuous elastic tension, so that when stretched by muscle contraction during inspiration, the rib cage can return passively to its resting dimensions when the muscles relax. This elastic recoil is greatly aided by the elasticity of the lungs.

Pulmonary ventilation consists of two phases: inspiration and expiration. Inspiration (inhalation) and expiration (exhalation) are accomplished by alternately increasing and decreasing the volumes of the thorax and lungs (fig. 16.13).

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