Breathing and Back Pain

Breathing affects the mobility and muscle tension in your spine. Learn how this occurs and ways to improve your breathing to reduce back pain.

How does breathing affect your back stiffness?

The Diaphragm and its relationship to your spine:

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that attaches to the inside of the lower ribs. It has a big tendon that attaches to the front of your spine just behind and below your lower ribs (shown in the picture below).

If you shallow breathe, the diaphragm stays short, and the tendon pulls on your spine.

Stretching the diaphragm through its full excursion helps move the tissue on the front of your spine creating more mobility.

Are you tight in your midback just below the rib cage?

Does your back have a hollow spot in its center? This is often the sign of a tight diaphragm, and/or tight hip flexors. Sitting for long hours can create tight hip flexors, and a tight diaphragm.

How can you breathe better to improve spinal flexibility and reduce back pain?

Breathing is primarily an automatic activity. However we also have conscious control over it. We can take deep breaths.

With automatic breathing an area in your brain triggers your breathing rate, signaling the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles between your ribs to contract (see below).

As you breathe IN the diaphragm descends toward the abdomen, which is why the abdomen expands on a breath in, and the rib cage is lifted. As you breathe OUT the diaphragm returns back up in the rib cage and the ribs return to their resting position. The cycle is repeated.

Breathing well is crucial for a healthy spine.

How to breathe well:

  • Have good posture – standing and sitting.
  • It is affected by your state of mind; whether stressed, relaxed, frightened, angry etc
  • Your spine can also affect your breath, if it is stiff it can be hard to get a deep breath. this is when you need help with Physio.
  • Habits need to change. We get used to shallow breathing (we don’t even know we are doing it!), and some people even hold their breath.
  • Pause regularly from what you are doing and breathe!

What can you do about this?

Make a conscious effort to breathe. Once patterns become ingrained you may benefit from specific muscular releases from your physio to restore length in your muscles to breathe more easily. Then A-J, a physio trained in breathing techniques, can teach you how to reset your breathing habits.

Try this Exercise to start to improve your breathing:

Sit comfortably (preferably with your back unsupported) for 3 mins in the morning and 3 mins in the evening and observe your natural breathing. You may notice that as you watch your breath it gets longer and deeper and perhaps Your body relaxes. This is a starting point.

Feel where you are breathing; are you breathing in your upper chest, do you use your neck muscles, or are you breathing air down into your lower chest and do you feel your belly expand? How long and smooth is your breathing? Do you sigh a lot?

Breathing may seem simple, automatic and unchangeable, but it is one automatic function that can be changed consciously. With guidance and practice it can be changed to help you breathe easier, to relieve muscular tension from your spine, and reduce back pain. 

Book in with A-J for a breathing assessment at Physio Therapy Yoga

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