The Importance of Diaphragmatic Breathing

How often do you think about breathing? Truth is, many of us are so busy throughout our day we never even think about our breathing. Breathing is vital for life; yet many of us take it for granted.
Most people are unaware that improper breathing (or chest breathing) is one of the most common causes of musculoskeletal pain. Chest breathing causes most people to overuse their accessory neck muscles (i.e., sternocleidomastoid muscle, scalene, and upper trapezius). This, in turn, can cause neck stiffness/pain and low back pain.
Why low back, you ask? Well, our low back is stabilized via air pressure. We are meant to stabilize our low back via the intimate connect between our pelvic floor and our diaphragm. When we chest breathe, our low back loses the pressure needed to stabilize the lower spine. Don’t believe me? Watch a baby breathe. Children innately breathe with their stomach because they read GQ magazine or try to look thin on the beach by sucking in their stomach. Chest breathing is a learned behavior, and it robs our core of stability.
OK, so chest breathing is bad; how can you tell if you’re a chest breather? Well, after years and years of chest breathing, we start to get what is called hour glass syndrome — we start to get muscle hypertonicity or excess muscle strength in the upper abdominals, the shoulder blades start to move up, and we start to overload the trapezius muscles. With this type of altered muscle tone we are prone to neck and low back injury.

For proper breathing, the diaphragm and pelvic floor need to act in coordination. What we notice in good breathers is that their chest does not move; only their stomach does. I like to imagine a beach ball in between my pelvic floor and diaphragm. With a proper breath the beach ball would not only move forward through the stomach; it would also move out the back as well. When breathing is done correctly, we also notice the belly button moves down.

By Dr. Taylor Rafool, D.C.