When people come to Sport and Spine Rehab for treatment, we often get a few funny looks when we address their breathing pattern. Breathing, like any other movement in the human body, is subject to dysfunction. A dysfunction in your breathing pattern can cause problems all the way up and down your body (i.e. your kinetic chain).
Breathing, Posture, & Spinal Stabilization
Respiratory muscles assist in our breathing, but they also have a primary role in both posture and spinal stabilization. When performing an activity that requires breathing, posture, and stabilization, your core must be able to coordinate these roles. A dysfunction in one of these roles will contribute to a breakdown in the others.
Imagine carrying some heavy grocery bags from the store to your car. You need to be able to do the following:
- You need to stay upright as you walk (posture).
- You need to stabilize the spine.
- You need to breathe.
While it may seem like second nature to do these tasks at the same time, that’s not always the case. If your body can’t figure out how to do these tasks at the same time, it will pick one and the others will get cheated. This same phenomenon can occur when we sit or stand for long periods of time, during a repetitive movement, or during exercise.
Over time, this picking and choosing between breathing, posture, and stabilization will start to wreak havoc on your body. In order to continue carrying the groceries to your car, your body will try to adapt by (1) recruiting other muscles (aka, using your neck and arms rather than your core) or (2) changing up the movement (aka, waddling to your car instead of walking upright). We call these compensations.
The primary muscle involved in respiration is the diaphragm. When breathing, the diaphragm contracts to draw air into the lungs. Think only your rib cage should rise up toward your head when you are breathing in? Think again! When taking a breath, your abdomen should actually expand out, more than your chest. Take a look at this gif to visualize what your abdomen should be doing during your breathing cycle.
During ideal core stabilization, the diaphragm, anterior/lateral abdominals, and pelvic floor contract to create pressure in our abdomen. This pressure is good because it pushes back against the spine, creating stability and helping us maintain our posture. If these muscles don’t contract correctly, we lose posture and stability.
When carrying groceries to the car, sitting or standing for long periods of time, or exercising, the trick is to not only breathe but also maintain spinal stability.
How can we stabilize our core and still use the diaphragm when breathing?
Practice. At Sport and Spine Rehab, we start with basic postural and stabilizing exercises. While the patient performs these exercises, we closely monitor his or her breathing. Then, we slowly add load, while making sure that none of the 3 functions diminish. These exercises are practiced over and over again until the conscious becomes the unconscious. Our goal is to have the body understand that performing these 3 functions at the same time is the ideal pattern.
The importance of proper respiratory function in musculoskeletal rehab has been documented in the medical literature for decades, yet it is often overlooked today. For more information or ideas for exercises, check out this research article. If you are interested in learning how to coordinate breathing, posture, and stabilization, don’t hesitate to reach out! Contact us today!