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Could breathing be the root cause of your pain?

Disclaimer: I would like to start off by saying that there are a lot of different types of breathing out there. They all have a purpose: Yoga, Pilates, meditative practices, and so on all cue the breath in contrasting styles. This particular breath I will be discussing is a type of functional breathing based on how you were born breathing. At the same time, this particular breath will make you a more efficient breather in the long run and will improve your movement, ability to stabilize and mobilize! :)

Have you ever thought about how you breathe? Or if you breathe? Do you find yourself holding your breath?

Or:

Do you snore? Do you wake up with a bad taste in your mouth all the time? Do you have constant sinus issues? Do you constantly wake up stiff? Believe it or not, your breath may be involved…

Let’s Start With The Basics

Our breath serves many purposes:

  1. Gas exchange: the most critical process by which our cells, muscles, organs, brain, etc. receive oxygen to function
  2. Controls posture and spinal stabilization
  3. Sound production
  4. Olfactory – sense of smell.
  5. Protection – from dust and microbes entering body through mucus production, cilia, and coughing

Our diaphragm is our primary muscle of respiration. It is an umbrella shaped muscle that attaches to the inner surface of the lower ribs in the front and the lumbar spine vertebra in the back.

On inhalation, the diaphragm should contract and move downward. On exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes and moves upward.

When you inhale, do you breathe vertically? Or horizontally? This diaphragmatic breath should have more of a horizontal movement – sending the breath downward, below the ribs into the trunk, 360 degrees. Try it!

When this happens, the “core” muscles should push out when you inhale. They should relax slowly and be controlled during the exhale. Try a 3 to 6 ratio: breath in for 3 seconds, out for 6 seconds. It may be harder than it seems!

Imagine a container or cylinder:

The top is the diaphragm, the bottom is the pelvic floor. All the muscles surrounding – lumbar spinal stabilizers, abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis, TVA, internal and external obliques) are the front, side, and back of the container.

The co-activation of all of the above creates an increase in pressure through our abdominal cavity called intra abdominal pressure. This is the mechanism by which intra abdominal pressure provides the most stable base of support for all movement.

Believe it or not, you were born breathing this way. We all spent the first month of our life learning to breathe in this particular fashion. We then progress that breathing into trunk stability and eventually into movement. We learn how to reflexively stabilize and move over and over again through failure. How many times do you think you fell down as a baby before you were able to walk? A lot!

This mechanism of maintaining this intra abdominal pressure provides the most stable base of support for all movement.

Think about the “core” as your powerhouse. This is the center of our stability, and therefore all movement. Unfortunately, this is not quite an easy fix from just doing a bunch of crunches or sit ups. We have to re-learn how to use this entire system as one unit. An easy place to start is with your breath!

Combine the above with the fact that humans breathe on average 30-50,000 breaths per day! More likely this number will be on the higher end for you if you aren’t breathing very efficiently. This becomes repetitive and over time, your body will protect itself by creating compensation patterns. Eventually, you will feel this somewhere in the body one way or another. This is the body’s attempt to succeed in the face of failure to maintain adequate trunk pressure.

I tend to look at most aches, pains, and tightness as a compensation and the end result of the loss of the innate reflex and ability to efficiently stabilize through our trunk. There are many reasons for pain, but I would say your breath and your ability to stabilize (efficiently or not) should be high on the list of things to evaluate first.

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