Many of us have poor breathing patterns. This can occur due to stress, poor posture or respiratory disorders, such as asthma. When you breathe incorrectly you tense the upper rib muscles, the scalenes, which run up into the neck. This can further affect your posture and result in pain. If you do not breathe correctly you will limit the amount of oxygen circulating in your blood and this will be detrimental to general health and well being.
Many people don’t realise that the diaphragm, the largest respiratory muscle, can be re-educated. By using the diaphragm correctly you can off-load the tension on the scalene muscles. A simple exercise, to encourage correct breathing, is to place one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest. Take a deep breath in and push your belly (and your hand) upwards. Make sure the hand on your chest does not move. Repeat ten times.
I recently treated a 4yr old girl with asthma. Her parents brought her to see me as she was very unsettled and not sleeping through the night. She suffered quite badly from asthma. On questioning, the parents told me she also suffered badly with constipation. On examination, she was found to be a very shallow, upper rib breather and had very tight scalene muscles. Treatment addressed the tight scalene muscles and the diaphragm. I also gave her some breathing exercises to do, with help of her mum. After three treatments she was much more settled, was sleeping through the night and was able to go to the toilet comfortably on a daily basis. This was a classic case of tight scalenes due to poor rib function caused by the asthma. The tight muscles were causing a lot of tension resulting in her being uncomfortable and unsettled. The diaphragm was not being used correctly and therefore was not massaging the abdominal contents as it should, resulting in the constipation.
Pilates and yoga exercise are also very good at improving correct breathing technique. Like any exercise you have to work at it. Breathing is an involuntary mechanism and breathing techniques have to be practised regularly in order for them to become habitual.
If you have any further questions or would like an appointment to discuss breathing and posture please contact Katherine Terry, Osteopath at Wessex Therapy Clinic.