How does breathing properly help reduce pain?
Most of us don’t think much about how we breathe because it just happens automatically. We breathe around 20,000 times our more per day! Although breathing is automatic even when we’re sleeping (thankfully!), we also have control over it and can change the way we breathe.
I check breathing on pretty much all of my clients. And everyone I work with can use some improvement on their breath pattern! I myself have been practicing breathing exercises for years.
So how can changing the way we breathe help reduce pain?
#1: Calms your nervous system
If your shoulders rise when you inhale, then you have a reverse breath pattern. Ideally your abdomen, sides of your low back and entire lower rib cage expand when you breathe in. If you are breathing into your chest, neck and shoulders this involves your accessory muscles of breathing. These muscles are there to help you if you are in an urgent situation, such as running away from a bear, but are not designed to work like this all day every day. If you do breathe into your chest and neck all day, then you are activating your “fight or flight” stress response. Do you want to add more stress to your life with the way you breath?! I don’t think so. But many of us do. Breathing into your chest and neck also contributes to tension in this area.
If you breathe diaphragmatically, and your lower rib cage expands on your inhale, this elicits a calming effect on your nervous system. Most of us could use more stress reduction which also can be very helpful to decrease pain levels!
#2: Helps you to use your core muscles properly
When you expand your abdominal cavity and your lower rib cage on the inhale, this lengthens the muscles in your core. When you lengthen a muscle it is set up to have a better shortening contraction (think of a rubber band stretching to load and explode). This lengthening and shortening is a wonderful expand and contract for those muscles in your abdomen and back.
I highly recommend getting better at this to help your core muscles become more active with every breath you take! This helps to support your spine and can hep reduce pain in your back, neck and elsewhere since having a more active, dynamic core helps the rest of your body to function better from the center out to your extremities.
#3: Free massage for other body parts
If you take a full diaphragmatic breaths, your dome shaped diaphragm expands down into your abdomen and massages muscles, fascia and organs as it passes by them. Most of us take shallow breaths where the diaphragm stays up in the rib cage area so we are missing out on this benefit. Massage helps to increase circulation and pliability in tissues which is good stuff we don’t want to miss out on!
#4: Supports your spine with air pressure
If you breathe diaphragmatically and your abdomen fills with air in all directions upon inhale, this increase your intra-abdominal pressure. This is very helpful when you are lifting heavy objects. The front of your lumbar spine has some areas with NO muscles attached, so this air pressure can be especially helpful for extra support here. And this of course can help you to avoid back pain when lifting!
I could keep going but these are just a FEW of the benefits of learning how to use your diaphragm more fully when you breathe! Some of us feel like we are “hitting a brick wall” when we try to expand our abdomen, low back and lower rib cage because our diaphragm is restricted. There are techniques to help with this issue, if you would like helpful info about some online learning, small group sessions or private sessions let me know. I would LOVE to help you breathe better, feel better and perform better!!
To get you started, here is a video which shows how to practice breathing and activating your core. I learned it from Dr. Kathy Dooley and her Immaculate Dissection courses. This is one of those exercises where it may be difficult for you to expand your diaphragm fully on the inhale, let me know how it goes!