How Can Breathing Possibly Help Fix My Back Pain?

Have you ever had back pain? Have you tried stretching and doing some core exercises, but the problem persists? If so, you're not alone. The "old" way of correcting back pain is out; breathing is where it's at.

Allow me to explain.

What is the first thing we do in life? When the doctors helped deliver you, they slapped your backside, you cried and took your first breath. Pretty important for survival, but also for pressure regulation, oxygenation of body tissues and organs, movement of organs, spinal fluid, spinal cord, rib cage expansion, and even movement of your brain.

What if you are not breathing correctly? Yes, that is a thing. There are different breathing strategies, just like you may be more quad dominant versus gluts dominant when you deadlift weights. The same can be true for breathing. You could be more of a chest breather, a belly breather, or a neck breather. These various breathing strategies affect you differently, and could result in increased tissue stiffness in certain areas of your body. Over time this tends to create dysfunctional movement patterns.

That's typically where I come in.

As a physical therapist, one of the first things I do when I am working with someone is assess their rib angle and watch them breath. This assessment tells me a lot without having to ask the patient to actually do anything. What the person does for a living, their training routine, their personal stressors in life, and their natural posture give me more clues. Of course I also do a thorough movement analysis to get a full picture.

Breathing and Back Pain

Breathing is a bodily function that we perform both voluntarily and involuntarily. When a person breathes consciously, the nervous system reacts. Breathing exercises can thus have an effect on the body function and reactions that are beyond conscious control of humans, such as pain. Breathing properly leads to relaxation of the body and the muscles in the mid and lower back. So, breathing exercises can be a way to target the treatment of chronic low back pain.

With proper breathing exercises, patients with chronic low back pain will have improper breathing causing the rib cage to become stiff and restrict inhalation. Oftentimes, these people have difficulty fully exhaling as well. Loss of elasticity of the muscles leaves stale air inside the lungs, which restricts any fresh oxygen from entering the body leading to more pain and discomfort.

How am I supposed to breathe?

You can consciously work on breathing exercises. This can have an effect on your breathing when you are not consciously thinking about it. One way to work on changing your breathing pattern is to place one hand on your abdomen, and the other on your chest. Take a breath in to make sure that the hand on your abdomen is rising higher than the one on your chest, but both should rise.

Another exercise is to deeply breathe in slowly through your nose. Once you’ve fully inhaled, pause, then slowly exhale ALL THE AIR OUT through your mouth. Then pause for 3 seconds while engaging your abdominal muscles before you take your next breath in. DO NOT LOSE THE CONTRACTION IN THE ABS WHEN INHALING.

It has been concluded that proper breathing through exercise can result in improvement in energy levels and reduce fatigue during exercise, as well as reduce chronic back pain. 

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.

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Dr. Bryan Carestia

Physical Therapist / Doctor of Physical Therapy / Owner (Newtown)
Bryan Carestia is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with nearly a decade of experience in outpatient orthopedics. He works at Activcore in Newtown, PA and services Bucks County, Pennsylvania and Mercer County, New Jersey. With an extensive clinical background and education, Bryan is uniquely qualified to handle more complex pain conditions that other practitioners could not resolve.
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