Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) often have some degree of hyperinflation of the lungs. Hyperinflated lungs can produce significant detrimental effects on breathing, as highlighted by improvements in patient symptoms after lung volume reduction surgery. Measures of lung volumes correlate better with impairment of patient functional capabilities than do measures of airflow. Understanding the mechanisms by which hyperinflation occurs in COPD provides better insight into how treatments can improve patients' health. Both static and dynamic processes can contribute to lung hyperinflation in COPD. Static hyperinflation is caused by a decrease in elasticity of the lung due to emphysema. The lungs exert less recoil pressure to counter the recoil pressure of the chest wall, resulting in an equilibrium of recoil forces at a higher resting volume than normal. Dynamic hyperinflation is more common and can occur independent of or in addition to static hyperinflation. It results from air being trapped within the lungs after each breath due to a disequilibrium between the volumes inhaled and exhaled. The ability to fully exhale depends on the degree of airflow limitation and the time available for exhalation. These can both vary, causing greater hyperinflation during exacerbations or increased respiratory demand, such as during exercise. Reversibility of dynamic hyperinflation offers the possibility for intervention. Use of bronchodilators with prolonged durations of action, such as tiotropium, can sustain significant reductions in lung inflation similar in effect to lung volume reduction surgery. How efficacy of bronchodilators is assessed may, therefore, need to be reevaluated.