Short Of Breath? Your Posture May Be To Blame.

Do you notice that you get out of breath quickly while going up stairs or on a walk? Sure, many disease processes (such as asthma or COPD) may be to blame, but your posture may be a significant factor. In fact, if you do not have a diagnosis of any respiratory diseases, your posture is likely the cause of this problem. 

Our diaphragm is located in the center of our ribcage and attaches on the back of our lower ribs as well as to the front of our lower spine. In order for it to work correctly, it needs to start in a domed position. It then flattens and moves lower in our ribcage in order to pull air into our lungs. When we breathe out, the diaphragm should passively return to its domed position. When the range of motion of the diaphragm is maximized, so is the amount of air we move with each breath.

However, there are many things that can upset this pattern. Stress, abdominal surgeries, respiratory diseases, sinus congestion, or even bad education as to how to “diaphragmatically breathe” will cause us to compensate when we try to breathe in. No matter the reason, when our breathing is challenged or our fight or flight nervous system is activated, we will compensate in a few ways: 1) We use our lower back extensors to essentially lean our shoulders back. This allows the front of our ribcage to open up and expand. 2) We use the muscles of our shoulders and front of our necks to pull the ribcage up and back, again opening the front of our ribcage. 3) A combination of the previous two.

When we lean our ribcage back through these compensatory breathing strategies, our abdominals cannot work effectively. Our lower ribs will then externally rotate and flare out. The bottom of our ribcage then becomes wider which stretches our diaphragm. When the diaphragm is stretched, it is unable to return to it’s domed state. Because the range of motion the diaphragm goes through at each breath is lessened, so is the amount of air that we move with each breath. Less air exchange means less oxygen coming into the body and less carbon dioxide leaving the body. This causes us to feel short of breath with even simple physical tasks. 

If you suffer from shortness or breath (with or without a disease process) and/or notice that your lower ribs are flared, come see us. We’ll make a customized program to restore proper thoracic and ribcage posture, abdominal activity and strength, and maximize your diaphragmatic and respiratory function. Call us today at 314-733-5000 or email



Written by Lesley Callaham, MPT, PRC on March 20, 2018