10 ways to prevent back pain: #3 Breathing

10 ways to help prevent back pain #3 Breathing   Improper or limited breathing can lead to a host of medical problems such as pain, increased muscle tension, anxiety, irritable bowels, heartburn, high blood pressure, and many other conditions.  Many of us breathe with a rapid, shallow, chest dominant breathing pattern due to reasons such as stress, injury, muscle weakness, and/or wanting a smaller midsection. Restoring proper breathing has tremendous benefits in the way we feel mentally, emotionally, and physically.  We call this diaphragmatic breathing.

The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that moves up and down in our abdomen for respiration, to aid digestion, and proper muscular support for activities.  The diaphragm muscle itself shares fibers and attachments with the ribs, low back, deep stabilizing muscles of low back, and even muscles of the shoulder (serratus anterior).   When we breathe improperly we can get pain at these places and many others.

The diaphragm is not only the chief muscle of respiration, but it also the chief stabilizer of the low back.  Without proper diaphragmatic activation we cannot assess the deep stabilizers of the low back and core.

So what is a proper, diaphragmatic breath?

We want to see and feel expansion of the abdomen 360 degrees around the belly.  Pretend you have your favorite pair of sweatpants on and expand the waistband with your breath all the way around your waistband.

Most of us can breath into our stomach in the front, but can you do so in the sides and into your low back?

The easiest position to practice this and immediately see the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing is on your back with you legs up in the air and supported by a couch, bed, or chair.

Things to watch for include:

  1. The chest and shoulders should not rise as we breathe.  The chest should expand down and out and not up and in.
  2. Exhaling should be at least twice as long as inhale
  3. Make sure you are breathing all the way around your waist.  Put your hands on your sides and low back to feel yourself breathe into these areas
  4. This should not be strenuous.  In fact, this should be very relaxing.  If you have pain, stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, and many others this should help bring relief when done properly.  At rest, when breathing this way all our muscles should be completely relaxed.  Constant muscle tension causes pain, anxiety, joint degeneration, and injury.

Use constant reminders such as stickers, phone reminders, or sticky notes to remind you to breathe with your diaphragm.  Get down on your back at least once a day for 5 minutes to relax and practice proper breathing.  If you perform core exercises, make sure you incorporate proper breathing into the exercises.  Holding your breath or chest breathing during core exercise grooves improper stabilization patterns and does not activate our deep stabilizing system.  The end goal of core exercise besides looking good, is to prevent injury and improve performance.  We don’t hold our breath during activities of daily living, so we don’t want to hold our breath when exercising. Learn to diaphragmatically breathe at rest and during exercise to reap the most benefits.

Thank you for joining us.  If you are having aches, pain, or discomfort always seek medical care.  See you next week.

Dr. Ryan Dunn D.C.

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