It might seem odd to consider breathing as a possible cause of back pain. However, the way you breathe may be a contributing factor to your spine-related discomfort. Specifically, not using your diaphragm as you inhale and exhale could be the source of the problem. To fully understand this issue, let’s take a closer look at diaphragmatic breathing and back pain that may be related to certain respiration habits.
Consisting of a sheet of muscle and a tendon, your diaphragm is a dome-shaped structure that separates your chest from your abdomen. Its main purpose is to push air into your lungs and draw air out (inhalation and exhalation). The diaphragm is attached to your spine, ribs, and sternum (breastbone)
When air is taken in, your lungs fully inflate and your diaphragm contracts, which flattens it and pushes the abdominal walls out. When breathing out, the diaphragm relaxes and air comes out as your lungs deflate.
If you’re taking so-called “bad breaths,” you may be sucking in your stomach as your chest rises. This is the type of breathing you might do at the doctor’s office when you’re told to purposely take an exaggerated breath and let it out. Some people naturally get into the habit of breathing this way, while others do it because of medical issues. This type of breathing is sometimes referred as shallow or paradoxical breathing. There are many reasons people don’t breathe diaphragmatically, some of which include:
• Living a generally sedentary lifestyle
• Respiratory issues related to smoking or conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
• Weak diaphragm muscles
• Poor posture habits like purposely sucking in the stomach for appearance’s sake
Normally, the diaphragm is capable of involuntarily handling breathing duties by itself. However, if you’re lifting something heavy, exercising, playing sports, finding yourself winded from walking or climbing stairs, or doing other activities that require physical exertion, your body calls on other respiration muscles to help out. Some of these helpers include:
• Abdominal muscles – These muscles push the diaphragm up during periods of heavy breathing
• Intercostals – Small muscles between the ribs
• Quadratus lumborum – A deep abdominal muscle that pulls down on the ribs during forceful exhales
• Pectoralis minor – A thin, triangular, upper chest muscle that pulls up on the ribcage during forceful or emergency breathing
• Sternocleidomastoids – Long muscles in the neck going all the way back to the base of the skull behind the ears that support and lift the ribcage during forceful breathing
• Scalene – Paired muscles on each side of the throat that allow the neck to turn while also lifting the ribcage during strenuous/heavy breathing.
Not fully using your diaphragm to breathe isn’t likely to be the sole cause of your back pain. However, if your breathing patterns are making some of your spine-supporting muscles pick up the slack, your spine may not be as well supported by these muscles as it should be, which could be a problem if your spine is already affected by:
• Herniated discs
• Unstable vertebrae
• Inflammation from other sources
• Spinal irregularities like spinal stenosis or scoliosis
If your Beverly Hills spine surgeon agrees that correctly breathing with your diaphragm may ease your type of back pain, there are several deep breathing exercises that can help you accomplish this goal, including ones specific to diaphragmatic breathing that can be done for 5-10 minute intervals 3-4 times per day. You might also benefit from exercises like yoga and Pilates since these disciplines place an emphasis on proper controlled breathing techniques.
If you’re experiencing chronic back pain, it’s crucial to consult a spine surgeon at The Spine Institute. Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of professional surgeons can identify the root cause of the pain and determine an effective treatment for relief. We offer a wide array of surgical procedures such as minimally invasive back surgery and spinal fusion alternatives. Beverly Hillsresidents can call 310-828-7757 today to talk to one of our friendly representatives and schedule an appointment.