Proper Breathing Habits That Can Change Your Life

         With an average of > 25,000 repetitions a day, breathing may be the most important movement practice that we do throughout our day. Unfortunately, at some point of our lives, many of us lose the ability to breathe optimally, and could benefit from re-training of this very important skill. Overall, breathing allows oxygen into your lungs in order for your body to function and thrive. Oxygen helps feed energy to your muscles and organs, and provides assistance to the autonomic nervous system, which controls heart rhythm, metabolism, digestion, etc.


An ‘optimal’ breathing practice allows for many health benefits, while a ‘suboptimal’ (or dysfunctional) breathing pattern can exacerbate musculoskeletal related pain, increase stress levels, and affect other systemic disorders.


An  optimal breathing pattern is commonly referred to as diaphragmatic breathing. This type of breathing utilizes our diaphragm muscle as the main source for lung expansion. The diaphragm is a three dimensional dome-shaped muscle that sits below your mid to lower rib cages.  As we inhale, the muscle flattens and causes expansion of the thoracic cavity to allow oxygen to flow in to your lungs. After the inhalation process, air is exhaled and the diaphragm relaxes to its resting position until the next breath cycle.


Alternatively, a dysfunctional breathing pattern utilizes accessory muscles as the dominant source for lung expansion. Accessory muscles comprise of neck and back musculature such as: the upper trapezius, scalene, sternocleidomastoid, levator scapulae, and the paraspinals muscles that run down either side of the spine.  If you are an accessory muscle breather, you may notice shrugging of the shoulders or extension of your lower back when you take a deep breath. This type of breathing can commonly cause increased tension and strain to these musculature.


Do you have a diaphragmatic breathing pattern, or an accessory muscle-breathing pattern? Assess your own breathing!


First, place one hand on your navel (or belly button), and position your other hand onto your chest, right above your breastbone. Now, take a deep breath, and notice which hand moves first. If the bottom hand moves first, you are using a more ‘diaphragmatic’ breathing pattern. If the top hand moves first, you have a more ‘accessory’ muscle breathing pattern.


If you have any degree of musculoskeletal pain or want to learn more about the health benefits of proper breathing, you will benefit from a breathing assessment. Please reach out to a health provider at APMR and start breathing easy!


Dr. Zachary Mease PT, DPT, CAFS

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