Whether it was from our choir director, yoga instructor, or a news article, we've all the heard the term "diaphragmatic breathing". But what does that really mean?
When we are breathing correctly, or breathing diaphragmatically, the diaphragm does all of the work. The diaphragm is our primary muscle of inspiration, attaches to the inner sides of our ribs as well as the front of the bones in our lower back, and separates the chest cavity from the abdomen. When we breathe, the diaphragm moves down pulling air into our lungs and inflating them. We should see our ribcage move out toward the side and our upper chest inflate. When we breathe out, the diaphragm will passively dome back up into the chest cavity, pushing air out of our lungs and our ribcage will narrow and fall. Check out the video below for a visual.
Seems simple enough, right? Well our bodies are really good at finding out different ways to breathe which can cause problems down the road.
One way our bodies compensate is to breathe with our neck muscles. These muscles are called secondary respiratory muscles because they are meant to only help us breathe when we are running or panicking and need to draw a lot of air in per breath. They should not be used all the time. These muscles typically become overused when there is any kind of obstruction to our breathing- such as respiratory disorders, sinus congestion (especially chronic), severely deviated septum (bone between our nostrils), or even anxiety issues. When the relatively passive diaphragmatic actions cannot provide us with enough air, our bodies will instinctively begin to utilize our neck muscles to help draw additional air in. While this is fine in the short term, say during a head cold or sinus infection, prolonged overuse of these muscle and dysfunctional respiratory patterns can/will cause neck and shoulder tension as well as headaches.
Another way our bodies compensate to breathe is with our lower back muscles. This typically happens with people that have limited ribcage mobility because they are either holding their ribcage rigid during activities, they have a sway back posture (arched lower back and generally "leaned back" position of the upper body) or because of a disease process. For these individuals, it is either easier for them to use their low back muscles to compensate than their neck because either their low back muscles are in a better position to compensate or because their neck muscles are not strong enough to draw enough air in on inhalation. This happens by the person gently leaning back or extending as they breathe in. This opens up their ribcage, allowing their lungs to inflate, by letting the lower ribs move up and away from the abdomen. This, again, can be successfully used in the short term but over time will lead to lower back pain.
A person may also use a combination of these strategies to breathe. If these poor breathing patterns continue without rehabilitation, one can not only develop pain as we mentioned earlier, but it can also morph into shoulder, rib, hip, sacroiliac (SI) joint, knee pain, and many other ailments.
Traditional physical therapy does not address respiratory patterns when they are assessing, diagnosing, and treating your pain problem. What does that typically mean for the patient? As long as they do their exercises 2-3 times a day for the rest of their lives, they'll likely feel better. Are you looking for a better way? Let Integrate 360 give you a more complete rehab program to retrain your body how to breathe correctly so that you are able to overcome the weaknesses associated with your pain and allow you to live a pain-free life!
Why work harder for incomplete results? Call us at 314-733-5000 to schedule an appointment today.