I would like to start this article off the way I start most exams: with breathing. People and clinicians typically overlook respiration even though it can be the primary source for a lot of problems, especially low back pain.
Respiration is more than a simple way for our body to exchange gases. It is a very complex coordination of specific muscles that are essential for spinal stabilization. The most important muscle is the diaphragm. It is a dome shaped muscle that sits just below our lungs. It separates our chest cavity from our abdominal cavity. In normal inspiration the diaphragm contracts and flattens and moves downward forcing our bellies outward. Yes, when you breath in your belly should move outward, NOT INWARD. When you exhale the diaphragm relaxes and returns to its dome shape allowing our belly to return to the normal position. Normally breathing should come from the belly only, meaning it should be the only thing moving. If you breath in and notice that your chest or breast bone moves a lot during inhalation you are not breathing properly.
To test if you breath properly lie on the floor with your knees bent. Place your right hand on your belly and your left hand on your chest. Take a breath inward. You should feel your belly expand into belly and your left hand should not move at all. As you exhale your right hand should fall back down. Each breath should be through the nose. If your chest moves a large amount, you often find yourself breathing through your mouth or you notice when you breath in your belly moves inward towards your spine (this is known as paradoxical breathing) you have a faulty breathing pattern. There are reasons why you may not breath properly. You may have a respiratory problem such as COPD or Asthma, it may be due to stress, or even just from always sucking in the stomach to hide the keg hiding under the shirt.
So what's the problem if I don't breath properly? Well poor breathing mechanics can cause early fatigue during exercise because you cannot breath as efficiently and it may cause chronic soreness in the lower mid back, neck and shoulders. If we do not breath properly we begin to use other muscles to help with breathing. These muscles are called accessory muscles and are typically only used during heavy breathing like during exercise. With a faulty breathing pattern we use these muscles during normal breathing causing these muscles to become overworked and sore.
So now that major question at hand...How do we fix it? First, lay on your back with your knees bent as I instructed before with the hands in same position. Breath "low and slow". Focus on trying to make only the hand on your belly move. It should move out, away from you on inhalation and toward you on exhalation. Try to keep the hand on your chest from moving at all. The chest should remain quite and all breathing should be through the nose. Do this several times a day for about 1-2 minutes of low, slow breathing. You should notice that with some conscious feedback you can maintain normal breathing. Further posts will come about breathing. Thanks for reading!!