Breathing dysfunctions have wide reaching repercussions throughout the body. If you breathe incorrectly the ribs are unable to move properly. This affects posture, alignment and bodily functions. It can lead to stress and pain in other areas of the body. It is a very common problem and I see this often in my new clients.
The Mechanics of Breathing:
- The rib cage moves and increases in all directions simultaneously
- The diaphragm contracts and moves in a downwards direction, thus flattening its dome-like shape
- The abdomen is visibly pushed outwards
- In turn this decreases the pressure in the lungs
- Air can now rush into the chest.
- The diaphragm relaxes and its dome shape is restored
- The abdomen is drawn inwards
- The space for air decreases in the lungs
- Air is pushed out of the mouth
- The rib cage moves inwards and decreases in size.
If, on inhalation, the abdomen is not able to expand, the natural spinal curves are flattened. The resulting shape lead to an increase of upper back and rib cage stiffness, and normal breathing patterns suffer.
Our body produces at least 21,000 inhalations and exhalations a day. A strong freely moving diaphragm drives this action and does most of the work. It is aided by other accessory muscles in the upper back and neck. These accessory muscles need to remain soft and relaxed. If the diaphragm is impaired in its movement somehow, the accessory muscles become strained and overused. This results in neck and shoulder pain. People with upper body and spine restrictions (for example, a dowager’s back and/or a forward head posture) will be breathing primarily with these accessory muscles within the neck and upper back, and not with their diaphragm.
A common pattern of breathing dysfunction is when the abdomen moves IN on inspiration and OUT on expiration, the opposite to what should be happening. In turn this creates shoulder girdle tension, often a forward head posture and also lumbar weakness. Subsequently, any forward head posture will then lead to excessive heavy loads on the neck resulting in neck pain and headaches.
Breathing and Core Strength
Breathing and core strength are strongly interlinked. Whether someone engages in a sporting activity or a mundane day to day action, core muscles need to engage properly to avoid pain and injury. Breathing well with a strong diaphragm will keep your core muscles working well. A weakened core will have incorrect breathing patterns. The rib cage and core work as one unit, with co-ordinated movement.
Another consideration is if a rib loses its ability to move in co-ordination with the other ribs, then pain, muscle guarding and breathing difficulties can result. A good analogy would be to think of a rowing team, with one oarsperson rowing out of sequence with the rest of the team.
A weakened core and loss of breathing from your diaphragm can result in:
- Chronic lower back pain
- Frequent tension headaches
- Emotional overload, high stress, persistent anxiety
- Chronic postural strain
- Painful ribs
Self Help / What to Do:
Make sure your rib cage has good mobility with some deep tissue massage treatments
Ensure you know how to breathe correctly:
- Place one hand over your lower abdomen, the other over your upper chest.
- Push the abdomen out when taking a slow full breath in through the nose
- Notice the ribs moving out, sideways and backwards
- Allow the belly to fall back in as you exhale through your mouth
There are numerous techniques to teach breathing, such as yoga, fascial fitness, meditation.