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Osteopathy: How Bad Posture affects your Breathing

It is no mystery that the lungs are responsible for the most vital function of life, breathing.

Understanding Breathing Mechanics:

During the processes of inhalation, lungs get filled with air, and exhalation when lungs empty themselves. Simple. For our lungs to work optimally, the rib cage that protects them needs to expand constantly in a gentle equal rhythmic way. Our respiratory muscle, the diaphragm muscle, will need to go up and down with each breathing cycle, and can only happen when the muscle is not tense or contracted.

A slouching posture at our workstation – which I notice many of patients take on – will compress ribs, intercostal muscles, diaphragm and base of the neck, preventing the ribcage from expanding fully, thus impairing optimal breathing.

The most common dysfunction observed in many patients is the unbalanced use of our breathing muscles. These muscles work in two groups, those from the abdomen such as the diaphragm (belly breathing) and the upper ones (chest breathing), surrounding the neck and collar bones.

However, many factors actually prevent us from using our diaphragm correctly: stress, fatigue, continuous exposure to pollution ánd a slouched/poor posture…

As a consequence of this shallow chest breathing, a lot of tension is felt anteriorly, often triggering upper shoulder, neck pain due to the overloaded neck muscles. Chest pains are a consequence of the tight intercostal muscles and inadequate expansion of the ribs.

As a catch 22, posture is continued to be affected in the long term, with the ribcage in a downward and forward position, impeding proper function of the diaphragm even more, and pulling the neck forward, giving rise to neck issues.

This slouched posture only aggravates the already imbalanced breathing by compressing the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles.

This shallow breathing actually has a much deeper impact on our system. It results in a lower amount of lymphocytes, and other immune cells supposed to defend the body from invading organisms such as viruses. It can also lead to respiratory problems, musculoskeletal conditions, cardio-vascular issues and slowed digestion.

What can you do? Exercises and Treatment

Breathing Exercise:

One simple way to enhance balanced breathing again is a breathing exercise twice a day:

One hand is placed on the chest, the other one on the abdomen. Breathe in from the nose and breathe out from the mouth. During the process, check that the abdominal expansion is equivalent to the chest raising, and that the actual diaphragm muscle is used.

Best time to do this exercise is early morning before getting out of bed and at night. 10 cycles.

Upper back Stretch:

Ly on your back on a short foam roller level with the nipples. Rest your head in crossed hands with elbows wide.

Stay relaxed to stretch “out” your upper back, you can move up and down to stretch each area of the upperback.

Osteopathic treatment focusing on helping expand the ribcage, stretch/relax all neck muscles, ease tensions on diaphragm, increasing spinal flexibility of neck and upper back, will optimize the ribcage expansion, help your posture and improve healthy breathing in order to prevent the various musculoskeletal dysfunctions as explained before.

Osteopathic treatment can help with the following respiratory issues:

  • asthma

  • bronchitis

  • reflux

  • shortness of breath

  • rib pains

  • upper back pain

  • neck pain


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