Breathing For Pain Relief and Performance


In the past several blogs we have gone over various stretches for helping with flexibility.

My favorite stretch, Tight Hamstrings, and Fix those Knees

However, we always have to ask the question, “Why is a muscle tight in the first place?”


Muscles can be tight for several reasons (injury, protective response, postural habits, sports, work, stress, internal issues, etc) and stretching is not always the answer. So, what else can we do at home to improve flexibility, health, and performance?


The most important thing we can do is breathe. “If breathing is not normalized, no other pattern can be.” (Karl Lewitt)


Something as simple as breathing can feed dysfunction and pain patterns all throughout the body whether hip, knee, foot, neck, back, etc. If we cant breathe and stabilize properly through our midsection, we wont stabilize properly through our limbs.


Proper breathing starts with our diaphragm. Our diaphragm is not only our chief muscle of respiration, but it is also necessary for activation of the abdominal/core musculature. A proper diaphragmatic breath is what activates our deep stabilizing system and helps keep muscle tone throughout our body normalized.


Improper breathing such as chest breathing, sucking our bellies in, or excessively protruding the front of our belly out hinder performance and lead to injury.


To begin practicing diaphragmatic breathing start on your back with your legs supported, so that your pelvis and chest are in line with each other.



Most people can breathe into their tummy, but make sure you can breathe into your sides, low back, and groins. The chest should expand, but should not rise up to our shoulders, as this only feeds tension in the shoulders, neck, back, and hips. Pretend you have your favorite pair of sweatpants on and try to expand your waistband 360 degrees.  You can also practice this sitting, standing, or during activity. Start first on your back with legs supported then once mastered on back progress to sitting, standing, walking, etc.


This is the way we should breathe to maximize performance and to decrease anxiety, pain, and discomfort. To bring more awareness to proper breathing I suggest putting little stickers on things you see all the time like your phone, computer screen, and rear view mirror. Small sticker reminders will give you quick, easy reminders to breath properly.


Some physical therapists, trainers, teachers will teach an abdominal draw in or sucking in maneuver because it activates a muscle called transversus abdominus. The issue with this is this maneuver shuts off the other muscles of the core and increases tension in the body. Try it for your self. Which is more comfortable? Relaxed abdominal breathing or sucking it in?


Sucking it in, although it looks better when your abs are showing, it only feeds tension, abdominal discomfort, and many other issues. You would never see a baby suck it in, a powerlifter suck in while performing a heavy lift, or any elite athlete suck their belly in when going to do an athletic maneuver like dunk, punch, lift, etc.


Take some time to practice this one. It takes 6 weeks of constant awareness to change a habit. You wont regret it.


Dr. Ryan Dunn D.C.

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