It truly is amazing how something as simple as your body’s breathing pattern can cause all sorts of health problems if you aren’t doing it correctly.

Breathing is a function that is fortunately controlled by our bodies autonomic nervous system. Autonomic control means that our body can effectively regulate respiration without us having to consciously think about every breathe we take. Basically, for the majority of our day our diaphragm and lungs are on cruise control.

The bright side of autonomic control is that not having to remind ourselves 20,000 times a day to inhale and exhale allows for us to focus on other more exciting aspects of life. Unfortunately, lack of consciousness for our breathing patterns can also lead us into trouble.

For example, a reversed breathing pattern can lock up your abdominal wall, which pulls your rib cage down and puts extra tension on the scalene muscles in your neck. That affects your posture and restricts the amount of oxygen your body receives.

Somewhere along the way in the everyday shuffle many people will develop postural faults that will lead to inefficient breathing. Compensations in posture and breathing can be triggered in response to emotional stress, injury, poor movement patterning and disease.

Although frequently going undetected, dysfunctional breathing patterns have the potential to wreck our bodies. Inhibition of respiratory stabilizers like the diaphragm, TVA, multifidus, obliques and the pelvic floor muscles will force your body to rely on other less efficient muscles to keep you alive and breathing. Most often respiratory dysfunction will drive compensatory facilitation upward and downward into the surrounding muscles of the shoulders and hips. 

Typical areas of pain/stiffness associated with breathing are Neck/Shoulders (Specifically the Scalenes, SCM and Pectoralis Minor), SI Joint/Lumbar Spine and Anterior Hip.

Most commonly, I find that Illiacus, Scalenes and Pectoralis Minor are overactive and painful while unnecessarily compensating to assist in respiration.

What’s even worse is that your inefficient breathing has the potential to kick off a chemically driven positive feedback loop, possibly making your already painful dysfunction even worse.

The repeated inefficient gas exchange associated with apical breathing can bring about a shift in pH levels in our bodies. A number of studies have demonstrated that an acidic pH, relative to normal can bring about nasty and painful reactions in the effected soft tissue structures.

Most notably, an acidic pH will stimulate the production of Bradykinin (an inflammatory pre-cursor), increase pain threshold sensitivity and promote the development of taut bands resulting in trigger points. This cascade pushes our body further into a state of stress, continuing the painful cycle.

In order to re-program our respiratory muscles and develop efficient core function we must practice our breathing pattern just like we would any other pattern. Reconditioning the muscles of our pelvic canister (diaphragm, transverse abdominis, pelvic floor, obliques and multifidis) not only proves valuable in treating dysfunction and improving movement quality but can also serve as a window into our para-sympathetic nervous system. By practicing controlled breathing we have the ability to shift our bodies into a para-sympathetic state. All of this is good news as it relates to optimizing our internal environment for rest and recovery.

And if you’re not getting enough oxygen, you’re probably reaching for coffee, sugary foods or anything that can give you a quick pick-me-up.