Happy April! It's time to shake this winter off and take a deep breath!  But before you do, let's take a moment to make sure you're creating the best possible chance to make that breath really work in your best interest. 

Because breathing is a necessity in life and happens automatically without us giving it any thought, it would be logical to assume that our body is looking out for our best interests to make the breathing process as efficient as possible.   Unfortunately, this is not the case. Believe it or not, out of all the possible faulty movement patterns in humans, breathing is number one! For such a life-sustaining process to be faulty in most people is shocking! But it gets worse!

Not only is breathing the critical process by which our cells, muscles, organs, brain, etc. receive oxygen to live and function properly, breathing also directly controls posture and spinal stabilization. That’s right, the diaphragm or breathing muscle, acts as a postural stabilizer in the trunk to keep you from developing spinal stabilization issues like back pain, muscle imbalances, osteoarthritis, rotator cuff and hip problems and the list goes on and on.

Without proper spinal stability strategies, recurrence of low back pain is basically guaranteed. According to the great neurologist from the Prague School of Rehabilitation and father of manual medicine, Karel Lewit, “If breathing is not normalized, no other movement can be.” How many of us are dedicated to improving our form in exercise and daily activities, but have never given our breath pattern a thought? What are we doing? It is impossible to truly correct a movement issue whether in a squat pattern or Olympic lift, sitting without back aches or climbing stairs pain free, if the diaphragm is not working properly. It is up to us to become aware of any faulty breathing patterns, fix them in multiple positions and most importantly in the ones that are causing us pain and dysfunction, then rebury these new, improved patterns back into the subconscious.

Let’s start with understanding the basics in breathing function. The diaphragm muscle which attaches to the inner surface of the ribs, lumbar spine vertebra and converges at the central tendon, creates inspiration when it contracts and pulls the central tendon downward. Because the central tendon is attached to the tissue surrounding the lungs, a vacuum is created in the chest which pulls air into the lungs. When we breath out, the diaphragm relaxes, releasing the central tendon and allowing the lungs to deflate.

In addition, as the diaphragm goes down with every deep breath in, the abdominal muscles contract slightly in response to an increase in pressure inside the abdominal cavity. The pelvic floor also activates to support the abdominal and pelvic organs and maintain continence. The spine then stiffens through activation of the spinal stabilizing muscles. This mechanism of sustaining abdominal pressure provides a stable base of support for all movement from the upper to lower body in postural control, daily activities and sports.

How can we check that we are breathing in the most efficient way possible? First, feel the muscles in your back that run up and down along your spine. If they are reminiscent of 2 vertical sausages, chances are you have a faulty breathing pattern! Place your fingers into the soft spot on your lower belly and see if you feel the pressure build up with each inhale. Try to breathe down into your lower belly until you do, and then maintain it on the exhale. Mastering the ability to pressurize the abdomen with breathing is the key to healthy movement and a necessity to correcting any neuromusculoskeletal issue for good!

All of our care plans revolve around creating the most efficient breathing possible in our patients. If you have any questions, please come in for a visit and we can help get you on the right path to having every breath you take work to your advantage!

-          Dr. Kerri Nelson, DC, CCSP

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