We all do it, but how well do you breathe?
· Our diaphragm is the primary breathing muscle. It bisects our trunk separating our lungs/chest from our abdomen/belly.
· When our diaphragm contracts it descends towards our pelvis. This creates a larger volume of space in our chest, lowering the air pressure which in turn draws air into our lungs (inspiration).
· When our diaphragm relaxes, it ascends, pressure in the lungs is increased and subsequently air is pushed out of our lungs (exhalation).
· Other muscles between our ribs (the intercostals) support this process by helping to elevate the ribs during inspiration.
Requirements for efficient and relaxed breathing
1. Appropriate abdominal muscle activity. Not too much, and not too little, and the correct balance between all of the abdominal muscles.
a. Excessive upper abdominal muscle activity can lead to an ‘hourglass’ like shape, restricting lower rib and diaphragm excursion.
b. Weak abdominals can allow poor anchoring of the lower ribs which then can flare upwards during inhalation. This creates difficulty for the diaphragm.
2. Appropriate pelvic floor activity. The pelvic floor has an important relationship with the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. During inspiration the abdominal contents move downwards, and the pelvic floor muscles need to allow this descent to occur while offering some support. The pelvic floor muscles work with the abdominals to modulate pressure in our abdominal cavity (intra-abdominal pressure) according to the amount of exertion we are doing. The amount of activity will vary, from being very quiet whilst we are idle, to increasing with walking/ talking/ singing, and significantly increasing with sport and exertion.
a. Weakness, or poor neuromuscular firing of the pelvic floor muscles will impair the cohesion of this system, and contribute to diaphragm tension and breathing dysfunction.
b. Excessive tension in the pelvic floor muscles can contribute to restrictions on diaphragm excursion during relaxed breathing.
a. A rounded upper back will restrict normal rib cage movements and increase incorrect breathing patterns.
b. Sway back or forward tilted pelvis postures will cause a “scissored” position fault between diaphragm and pelvic floor. This impairs their reciprocal relationship, and promotes dysfunction.
c. Forward head posture can cause cervical spine dysfunction. 2/3rds of the nerve input to the diaphragm comes from the phrenic nerve which arises from the mid cervical spine. Good neck posture will assist with nerve control of the diaphragm.
Non-ideal breathing mechanics
Poor breathing mechanics often leads to “upper airway breathing”, which is less efficient and results in excessive use of neck and shoulder muscles. If this occurs you are more likely:
· To experience neck pain and headaches
· Have restricted endurance capability
· To experience lower back pain due to interruptions in core stability.
Breathing is an integral part of everything we do, and influences our function, strength, endurance, immune system, core stability, injuries, and happiness. It is a complicated movement that is influenced by the whole body.
If you believe that your breathing system is not functioning at its best, then it is well worth having a skilled physiotherapist assess you. At RHP Physio your posture, gait, muscle balance, neuromuscular activity, muscle tone, biomechanics, and co-ordination is all taken into account when analysing your breathing.
To make an appointment with one of our skilled physiotherapists call us on 07 3856 5566