Taking a breath
Why is the diaphragm so important
As a Paramedic I learnt the importance of breathing properly. Seeing people suffering difficulty in breathing teaches us a lot. It demonstrates the bodies ability to function under huge amounts of stress, be it from the excursion of running, the dysfunction of a panic attack or the restriction of asthma.
Your lungs should fill up like a glass of water, from the bottom up. Your diaphragm contracts pulling the base of your lungs downwards, your lower ribs splay out to the side and this expansion moves up to the upper ribs and sternum which elevate upwards as a full breath is taken.
Normal relaxed breathing occurs within a small range at the bottom of our potential full breath and so a whole host of muscles are not used most of the time. These muscles have other functions such as neck movements as such are referred to as the accessory muscles of breathing.
During times of difficulty in breathing, compensatory mechanisms kick in to keep oxygen going in and carbon dioxide out. Without it you have 4 minutes so the body throws all hands to the pump. Your neck muscles switch on to pull your upper ribs upwards and outwards to draw the air in to the lungs. This mechanism should only occur when under stress, it recruits the accessory muscles of breathing.’ These muscles switch from their normal function to try and help you to breath.
The Sitting conundrum
We spend our lives in a very unusual position these days. Sitting down may be very comfortable for us but its a relatively new concept in the grand scheme of our evolutionary past. When the first chair was invented around 5000 years ago our health was already on its way down. Now we spend hours of our day in this position. So what has this new invention done for us.
When we sit our hips move into flexed position. The slump in your lower back (yes we all do it) and the flexion the femurs place a pressure on the abdominal contents. Your diaphragm has to stabilize this pressure pushing up and contracts.Your diaphragm has to switch from a muscle of respiration to a muscle of stabilization and so isn’t assisting your breathing as much.
Those muscles that were used when the body is undergoing difficulty in breathing start working. The scalene muscles run from your cervical spine onto your top ribs. These muscles are crucial in times of high oxygen demand but now you have shut off the diaphragm so they have to start working. Spend hours like this and your body gets used to it. When you stand your body doesn’t use the diaphragm.
The movement of your diaphragm does much more than just breath for you. It also compresses the abdominal cavity, this creates a pump effect on your cardiovascular system to push blood from the lower half of the body back to the first chamber of the heart, the right atrium. When the diaphragm is working it provides your heart with a little bit of help every time you breath in and out functioning like a secondary heart.
If only that was reason enough to not spend 8 hours a day sat down. Our respiration is a unique system in the body. It has two inputs. We have both voluntary and involuntary control of our breathing. The involuntary control is hardwired into our flight or fight response, to prepare our breathing for as sudden attack of a sabre toothed tiger. Ever been shocked and taken a gasp of air? Thats an involuntary control of your muscles of respiration. These muscles are linked into our stress response so stimulation of one stimulates the other.
The result is a physically and mentally stressed person.
The signs of this problem are what I refer to as the I.T posture. As the scalene muscles over work they tighten and shorten creating a flexed position through the neck. This results in a plethora of muscular problems commonly resulting in headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, mobility problems and more.
Movement, stretching, regular breaks away from the seated position, conscious awareness and treatment can help correct problems these breathing patterns.
Book in for a consultation to have your diaphragm assessed.