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Could Improving Your Breathing Improve Your Health?


Breathing is an involuntary action. This means that we breathe with or without our conscious control to ensure our body gets oxygen and expels carbon dioxide.

So if it happens without our attention, can we really breathe incorrectly? Yes!

Osteopaths observe improper breathing in many patients especially those presenting with pain in the neck, back, shoulders or suffering from stress, anxiety or associated respiratory pathologies. This happens in part because improper breathing can overwork the accessory muscles of the rib cage including the muscles of the neck and chest. This results in restricted rib motion and can even be tender to touch.

Is this so bad? Restricted breathing is inefficient, shallow breathing that decreases sports performance and works to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. Shallow breathing tells our body that we are stressed and enacts our flight or fight response. If enacted for a long time, breathing this way could contribute to chronic stress that is associated with many poor health outcomes – both mental and physical.

Osteopaths can work to overcome rib restriction using techniques such as inhibition, HVLA, soft tissue, muscle-energy technique, myofascial release and articulation to help restore the structure and function of the rib cage and surrounding areas. The patient can incorporate breathing techniques to prevent problems occurring in the future.

So how can we improve our breathing? Ideally, we should be using the primary muscle of inspiration – the diaphragm. This muscle sits deep to the base of the rib cage. To improve our breathing we can learn to utilise this muscle and relieve the muscles of the upper rib cage.

A good time to practice is lying in bed before going to sleep. This will result in deeper breaths and switch the nervous system to the parasympathetic – rest and digest mode. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen. Concentrate on breathing through your nose and out in long slow breaths. The aim is to decrease the rise and fall of the chest and increase the rise and fall of the abdomen – as a sign that the diaphragm is doing its job.

Once you have a feel for this, you can incorporate this technique into your busy schedule. The next time you feel stress, you may notice your shoulders creeping closer to your ears, and your breathing becoming more shallow and dominated by movements from the chest. This is where you can take control. Draw your shoulders down, and direct your abdomen to take long slow breaths. You will be surprised how this can help you decrease you stress and increase your clarity of thought. By taking control of your breathing you can manage your stress better and improve your health outcomes for the long term.


Jess Round

This post was written by our wonderful 5th year Student Intern Osteopath, Jessica Davies.

You can read more about Jessica here or book in a consultation here.

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