The act of breathing is controlled by our brain, and more specifically the pons and medulla. This area of our brainstem is responsible for automatically stimulating us to take a breath (luckily for us men because I have heard we are less than perfect at multi-tasking). Considering the average person takes between 15,000-25,000 breaths per day, depending on our physical and/or emotional demand, it is important that we have a correct breathing pattern. A poor breathing pattern can cause certain neck and chest muscles to be overused while weakening and causing instability in our low back. But how is this possible??? In order to understand how this can occur we must first understand proper breathing patterns.
Let's start by discussing the importance of our diaphragm. The diaphragm is a circular done-shaped muscle that is rather thin and has attachments to the vertebrae of the low back, the lower six ribs and our sternum. This muscle serves as the primary muscle in breathing as well as the separation between the thorax and the abdominal cavity. During proper, non-stressful inhalation the diaphragm will contract causing it to flatten and increasing the pressure in the abdominal cavity while lowering the pressure in the thorax. When this occurs the abdomen will swell activating the abdominal, pelvic floor and low back muscles which creates a cylinder of stability for the low back. If normal breathing patterns exist a person should be able to lie on their back with one hand on their chest and one hand on their abdomen and while inhaling feel the hand on their abdomen move the most.
With a basic understanding of proper breathing patterns, lets discuss faulty breathing patterns. If the diaphragm is inhibited or poor utilized then the chest and neck muscles dominate the breathing process. This faulty breathing pattern is called Paradoxical Respiration. Paradoxical respiration commonly causes neck and/or low back pain due to the lack of diaphragm and core muscle activation as well as over activity of certain neck and chest muscles. In a recent study they found that nearly 75% of those people with neck or back pain had faulty breathing patterns (JBMT (2004) 8, 297-306).
For years, health care providers have known of faulty breathing patterns and how it relates to chronic neck and back pain. Now, hopefully after reading this, you do too. For more information please contact In Motion Spine and Joint Center at 615.302.4747 or WWW.IMSJC.COM.