By Dr Marcus Chidiac, D.C.
If you're a human, in good health, you’re likely to breathe about 25,000 times a day. There was a good chance that in your infancy, as a function of your lack of stress, frequent physical movement and poorly designed ergonomic workspace (or lack thereof), that you breathed well - you likely never had a time where you were ‘forgetting’ to breathe, either. These weren’t problems you faced.
Over time, you’ve likely developed an improper breathing pattern. You might even be self aware of this right now; “sometimes I have to REMIND myself to breathe” or “I feel like I’m holding my breathe when I'm stressed”. These complaints are common, and usually an indicator, even prior to assessment, that I’m going to see both the physical AND physiological manifestations of dysfunctional breathing. A few questions here need to be considered: What is ‘proper’ breathing and what are the negative effects of not doing so?
Normal, functional breathing infers that the lungs have been given sufficient room to inflate. Additionally, it would imply that the ribcage EXPANDS, the diaphragm (the dome shaped muscled located underneath your ribcage that functions as the primary muscle of breathing) CONTRACTS and the intercostal muscles (located in the spaces between your ribs) contract on INSPIRATION (the breathe in), and that during EXPIRATION (the out breathe), natural elastic recoil of the ribcage takes place.
When the above, which manifests as a patient expanding through the stomach and outwards through the lower ribs on inspiration, and the opposite taking place through expiration, ISNT taking place, your body lets you know. A variety of physical problems, including neck and mid-back pain can and likely will take place. Further, if your breathing is dysfunctional, physiological problems - think reduced availability to oxygen leading to muscle tightness, headaches, and general fatigue, just like the physical manifestations, can and likely will take place.
What does dysfunction look like in an abnormal breathing pattern?
Upper chest breathing. Shoulders raise on inspiration, chest lifts up and forward.
Decrease in lower abdominal movement. You breathe in, the air ‘stays’ in the chest, the abdomen doesn’t ‘fill’ with air
The muscles at the front of the neck look tense. The scalenes, attaching to the 1st and 2nd ribs and primarily acting as a mover of the neck, are working overtime to raise the rib cage vertically because it isn't moving laterally (outwards)
Your improper breathing is enough to cause you serious musculosketetal dysfunction. To see how, it's important to analyse the net effect of the primary muscle of breathing.
Look at the diaphragm. When this muscle contracts, it lowers the stomach contents. Doing so allows SPACE for the lungs to expand. A diaphragm that isn't working because you've been breathing through your chest? Stomach contents stay raised, lungs are left with little space. Result? Ribcage attempts to expand VERTICALLY - muscles of the neck, working overtime, nonstop, to raise the ribs up.
The net effect of the ribcage not moving well? A forward head carriage because the tight neck musculature, and increased stiffness in the mid-back because of the lack of proper expansion in the lateral plane. How do you fix it? Release the diaphragm, release the neck muscles, improve the mobility of the mid-back and RETEACH breathing.
Heres a good way to start after you've had the above addressed by a Chiropractor:
Lay flat on the ground - make your low back sit flat against the ground and slightly tuck your pelvis inwards. Breathe in through the belly - make your abdomen expand. Breathe IN for a 3 count. Breathe out for a 5 count, squeezing your abdominals, attempting to squeeze your lower ribcage also. Hold for a 5 count, do nothing - be calm.
Try this for 2 minutes straight. Set a timer. Do it twice a day. Watch the results.