“You want me to WHAT?????”
Oh the faces I get when I tell a patient for the first time that I want them to blow into a balloon. Sometimes there are outright refusals. But I promise you, I have a very important reason behind it all.
After several years of working with clients on breathing I’ve come to the conclusion that just about everyone these days has poor breathing patterns. Sure, I’ve treated several yogis and well trained vocalists and its always the same … poor diaphragmatic breathing. YES, I mean you, the opera singer that gets back pain every time she goes on stage!
So as a physical therapist, why do I care about creating good breathing patterns in my patients & clients?
Besides being linked to fatigue, lightheadedness, panic attacks, anxiety and even irritable bowl syndrome; poor breathing is integrated with poor posture and can lead to injury. When one doesn’t use their deep abdominals and diaphragm together to pull air in and push air out efficiently they compensate by using accessory muscles in the body that lead to excessive strain and torque. Most often this can be linked to neck and back pain, headaches, and shoulder pain. Most injuries are tied to poor “core”, and you can’t have an effective core without effective and efficient breathing.
“But Sarah, I’ve been working so hard at my belly breathing!”
If your belly is pushing out a lot, what do you think is happening to your abdominals? Are your abs expanding or contracting? When the belly expands forward, what do you think is expanding? Your lungs are not in your stomach. (HINT: your pushing your guts forward).
Yes, the diaphragm contracts on inhalation with belly breathing and that is a good thing…but I want more!
If the belly expands too much (a little is normal) one looses the synchronicity of the abdomen and pelvic floor maintaining proper core control. Instead, the lumbar paraspinal muscles and/or the neck muscles will overwork to help pull air in and can contribute to compression of the low back and tight, sore necks.
“Above all, learn how to breathe correctly.” - Joseph Pilates
So what is good diaphragmatic breathing?
What does it look like?
When inhaling, the belly may expand a little but the rib cage should also expand in 3 dimensions - the front, back and sides (where the lungs are). If a person doesn’t breath and expand the ribs in all these dimensions, the ribs get tight and loose elasticity. The hardest dimension for most people, and arguably the most important dimension, is the back of the ribs, and when that area gets tight, the low back goes with it.
So how do I train good breathing? Stay tuned to learn how YOU can use a balloon can change your life….
Doctor of Physical Therapy