How your breathing may contribute to shoulder issues….

 In Osteopathy

“When anyone comes in with neck and shoulder pain, one of the first things I will start with is looking at the underlying breathing pattern” says Martine Ursnik – one of our lovely Osteopaths.  She also says that their response is: “But it’s automatic and I do it all day long, why should we look at that?”

So we decided to sit down so she could explain just that and…. we could write it out as a reference for you 🙂

Firstly, it is important to understand how the muscles involved in breathing and the upper body are connected.

Some of what we call the “accessory” muscles of breathing are located in your neck, shoulders, and upper torso and are the very same muscles that are involved in pulling the shoulders forward, lifting the rib cage and stabilising the shoulders.

Now, what happens is that when shallow – or “stressed out” – breathing is happening, those muscles in the upper body start to get used for that type of breathing. So when you breathe, you’ll see the shoulders go up, the chest or upper ribs moving up and out and the shoulders getting pulled forward.

Knowing that we take around 22,000 breaths per day, all this can lead to excess wear and tear in those muscles. If these muscles are overworking, they can develop an acidic build up which can cause pain and irritation. Additionally, excess tension in the muscles can lead to imbalances through the body that can also be irritating and painful.

On top of all this is the fact that when we are sitting a lot (which, let’s face it – most of us are) it’s hard not to slump.  Slumped posture can inhibit the movement of the diaphragm – the main muscle we want to be working when breathing.

Phew… kinda makes you want to sigh huh? Probably not a bad idea! 😉

So….if shallow breathing and a restricted diaphragm are contributing to shoulder or even neck pain, Martine advises to start by correcting the breathing and working on conditioning the affected muscles. Some of the muscles in the back of the body that support and stabilise the shoulders may have become ‘lazy’ and may also need a little training to start firing properly again.

You can start to practice diaphragmatic breathing by sitting in a chair and imagine that you are breathing into a belt wrapped around your middle.  See if you can get your back pressing into the back of the chair at the same time – you are aiming for a 360 degree expansion of the lower torso to encourage downward movement of the diaphragm.

Diaphragmatic breathing also activates the vagus nerve which will help to create the rest and digest relaxation response in the body, so as well as potentially reducing pain, it might help lower your stress levels too!

The body and its various systems are all so interconnected and there is almost nothing so vital as breath, so no wonder it has such importance and impact!

Wishing you health and slow deep breaths!

The MO Team x

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