One of the overlooked aspects of rehabilitation and spinal issues is breathing mechanics. There are 20 primary muscles that are related to breathing and they also are used to stabilize the spine. If you are having problems, the dysfunction can affect both your spinal stability and your breathing . In other words breathing problems can cause spine problems or spine problems can cause breathing problems. One of most common spine problem that I see in the clinic is an inability to stabilize the low back and breathe because patients are not properly using their diaphragm. A recent study in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy demonstrated that people with low back pain breathe differently while lifting than people without low back pain. The other common problem I see is that people will use their neck muscles instead of their respiratory muscles. In fact, one study showed that 83% of people with faulty breathing patterns experience neck pain.
There are several signs of faulty breathing. If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you likely are not using a good breathing pattern.
1. Does your ribcage elevate when you breathe?
2. Do you move your chest more than your abdomen when breathing?
3. Does it feel like your ribs do not expand outward when you breathe?
4. Is it hard for you brace your stomach and breathe normally at the same time?
The other thing that I see in the clinic is that people who are stressed out, very busy and have a difficult time relaxing are more likely to be poor breathers.
Regardless of my patients goals or current level, we start with the most elemental movement patterns and add complexity and intensity. If you are experiencing neck or low back pain, breathing is the most basic movement that you must do well. As a physical therapist some of the goals that I have for patients include developing diaphragmatic breathing, facilitating rib expansion, normalizing normal rhythm and being able to brace and breathe at the same time.
So there was a lot of specifics about breathing in this blog. The bottom line is that if you are experiencing spinal pain, have a great deal of stress or notice a correlation between poor breathing and your spine pain you will likely benefit from physical therapy.
Jon Hill, DPT, Licensed Physical Therapist with Siskiyou Physical Therapy
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