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Take a Breath

by Jesse Lewis, PT, DPT, OCS

Take a Breath

Why Breathing is Related to Pain and Movement

Take a Breath

Take a breath.  This seemingly simple task has a large impact on your body.  Most of our clients don’t realize that your diaphragm is a muscle, like any other in your body.  It should contract normally during every breath you take.  Which can be 25,000 times per day!  As you can imagine, if you are using a muscle incorrectly that many times a day it can lead to problems in your body.  

Inhale Exhale

Take this simple and quick test.  Place one hand on your stomach, and one hand on the middle of your chest.  Take 5 breaths.  Which hand moved more?  Normal, resting breathing should be 90% from your stomach hand and 10% from your chest hand.  Your stomach hand should also be the first hand to move.   For many people, this is not the case.  When normal diaphragmatic breathing isn't optimal, other muscles in your back, chest, and neck must compensate every breath you take.  If your diaphragm isn’t working or sitting properly, it may contribute to back pain.1  It also affects how you move and function.  You may have heard about functional movement screens, where there are a series of movements that test how well your body moves and scores overall strength and mobility.  Well, it turns out that those people who have breathing dysfunction are much more likely to score poorly on these tests.2

Breathing Exercise

The good news is that the diaphragm is a muscle and can be retrained like any other muscle in the body.  Retraining your breathing can have a big impact on how you move.3  Try this: lie flat on your back and put one hand on your stomach, and one hand on your chest.  Take a breath in through your nose, and out through your mouth.  As you breathe, try to have your stomach hand move first, and your chest hand have little to no movement.  Take 10-15 minutes every day and work on slowly retraining your breathing pattern.  If you’re having difficulty, don’t get frustrated!  Our clients often struggle with this at first, and it takes time to learn.  Having a normal breathing pattern, though, is often the first step in our treatment plan and can make an immediate improvement in your movement and pain.  

1. Kolar P, Sulc J, Kyncl M, Sanda J, Cakrt O, Andel R, Kumagai K, Kobesova A. (2012) Postural function of the diaphragm in persons with and without chronic low back pain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. Apr;42(4):352-62.

2. Helen Bradley, PT, MSc, Joseph Dr. Esformes, PhD, CSCS. (2014) Breathing Pattern Disorders and Functional Movement. Int J Sports Phys Ther Feb; 9(1): 28–39. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3924606/

3. Yeampattanaporn O, Mekhora K, Jalayondeja W, Wongsathikun J. (2014) Immediate effects of breathing re-education on respiratory function and range of motion in chronic neck pain. J Med Assoc Thai. Jul;97 Suppl 7:S55-9.  Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/

Check out Dr. Tamer Issa's book, Freedom From Neck & Back Pain- Learn to Live an Active Life Without Fear of Pain