Valsalva Maneuver: Uses, How to Do It, Risks

Even though this maneuver can have some side-effects it can also provide various benefits. For example, it’s a non-invasive option compared to other treatments like meds or electric shocks that can have serious side-effects.

woman smelling flowers

You might have done the Valsalva maneuver in the past without knowing it. This is a method of putting pressure on your chest that causes various changes in your blood pressure and heart rate. Why in the world would you want to do those things? There are different applications like making your ears pop. Let’s say you just went swimming and for some reason, there’s water that got trapped in your ears. In that case, sometimes it can seem impossible to get the water out. This technique reduces how much blood each heartbeat pumps out. So, it’s critical to do it right.

This maneuver can also have other uses. For example, it can help to slow down the heart rate of people who have a condition known as SVT. This can result in super-fast heart rates of 100+ beats per minute. In this case, it’s critical the Valsalva maneuver can be effective in bringing a person’s heart rate back to normal. Whether you use this technique for minor or severe health conditions it’s critical to do it properly. This will help to get the best results without greatly increasing your risk of injury. That’s certainly something you’ll want to avoid.

What Is the Valsalva Maneuver Used for?

First, it’s important to know what this breathing technique is all about. It’s named after an Italian doctor named Antonio Maria Valsalva. It has many functions including breathing out when your lungs’ airways get blocked. People can also use this technique to get air or water out of the ears.

Here are some of the main uses of this maneuver:

Pop Ears

This probably sounds dangerous but it can be safe/effective when done properly. There are times when air or water gets stuck in your ears. In those cases, you can use this maneuver to help force the stuff out of your ears.

There are various ways air/water can get trapped in your ears. It could happen after swimming or scuba-diving. Meanwhile, air could get trapped in situations like a change in elevation when flying or riding up/down a mountain.

Bowel Movement

There are times when you’re unable to have a bowel movement for whatever reason. In that case, you could do this technique to force one. In fact, you might have used the Valsalva maneuver in the past for this function. It can be effective since it’s important to rid your body of toxic waste.


It’s interesting that weightlifters also might actually do this maneuver without knowing it. One theory is that it can help people lift heavy weights because it helps to provide momentum.

Another benefit when weightlifting is trunk stabilization. When lifting heavy weights, it’s also important to stabilize your lower body to provide enough support and help to prevent injuries.

Heart Rhythms

If your heartbeats are irregular then it’s important to get them back to normal. This is especially important during times your heartbeats are racing, for example. People with a condition called SVT can use this technique to help reduce a fast heart rate.

How to Do the Maneuver

The goal of the Valsalva maneuver is to prevent air from going out of your mouth and nose. When doing this technique for the first time it’s critical for your doctor to monitor you to make sure you do it properly and for a safe/effective timeframe.

It’s also important to make sure you read up about the steps to take. This will help to prevent taking the wrong ones and possibly experiencing an injury when doing the technique. Here are the steps to take:

  • Step 1: Pinch your nose so the nostrils are closed
  • Step 2: Close your mouth
  • Step 3: Breathe out like you were blowing up a balloon
  • Step 4: Exert a force like you were experiencing a bowel movement
  • Step 5: Continue this movement for 10-15 seconds

One of the benefits of this technique is you can do it when you’re either sitting down or lying down. It’s important to talk to your doctor about which option is the right one for your particular situation.

When you use this technique, you’re actually following four phases including:

  • Phase 1: When you blow out hair this puts pressure on your chest. This causes your blood pressure to spike.
  • Phase 2: This results in your blood pressure dropping as a little blood in the veins goes back to the heart. The heart picks up the change and chemicals reduce the heart rate in order to deal with the situation.
  • Phase 3: After the maneuver, your body relaxes and blood pressure drops for a couple of moments.
  • Phase 4: Then the blood returns to the heart. The blood flow should return to normal after a couple of heartbeats. The blood pressure will increase since the blood vessels are thinner. The spike in blood pressure should cause your heart rate to return to normal. This is the end of phase 4. 

Are There Any Risks?

As with other techniques that affect your heart rate and blood pressure, it’s important to know about any possible risks involved.

You should be ready to possibly experience certain symptoms. Some people feel lightheaded and others even lose consciousness for a short time. This highlights the importance of doing the technique correctly.

Even if you’re doing this technique to clear your ears to be careful. The reason is you could damage your eardrum if you exhale too hard while doing the technique.

Make sure to talk to your doctor before you start using the technique. It’s especially important if you have an irregular heart rhythm problem called arrhythmia. In that case, it’s important to know about any special precautions you should take.

Take note that you can’t use this technique to treat each and every heart problem. For example, let’s say you have high blood pressure and are high-risk for heart attack or stroke. In that case, it could be quite dangerous for you to use this technique.

There’s also the case that your doctor has given you a thumbs up to use this method to slow down your racing heart rate. If it doesn’t work then it’s important to go immediately to a hospital’s emergency room.

You should also take that step if your heartbeat is fast and you have symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, or feeling faint.

Even though this maneuver can have some side-effects it can also provide various benefits. For example, it’s a non-invasive option compared to other treatments like meds or electric shocks that can have serious side-effects.

There’s no 100% guarantee that the technique will work. However, if you want to get air/water out of your ears or reduce your heart rate then sometimes you can achieve those goals by doing the Valsalva maneuver.

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