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Does the Way We Breathe Affect the Spine?

line illustration of taking a deep breathActually, it does. Most of us hardly give a thought to the way we breathe, but consider that the muscles we use to help us breathe are connected to the lumbar vertebrae. Breathing the right way can actually lead to the relaxation of the muscles in the mid and lower back, and breathing exercises can be a way for some of us to assist in the treatment of chronic low back pain.

So, what is the right way to breathe?

What’s key to relaxing our spinal muscles is a full exhale. When we do this, our rib cage drops down away from our chin and our diaphragm relaxes. In this way, we have created a dome shape inside of our rib cage. This muscular dome, even when it’s relaxed, provides support for the rib cage. So, when we exhale completely, our upper back and neck muscles get a break and lengthen out, and the rib cage just floats on that diaphragm.

Conversely, improper breathing causes the rib cage to become stiff and restricts inhalation. The resulting loss of elasticity and weakness of the muscles leaves stale air inside the lungs, which restricts any fresh oxygen from entering the body, which can cause additional pain and discomfort.

Posture and Breathing

It’s generally understood that bad posture can have a negative impact on the spine. What’s not so well understood is that posture impacts the way we breathe.

When we spend a lot of the day in a slumped position, the diaphragm can’t descend easily, making it difficult to activate the posterior half of the diaphragm that attaches to the lower ribs and spine. But, of course, the body needs to continually pull in air to replenish its oxygen stores. To do that, it now has to call upon its backup breathing muscles around the neck and chest to help us inhale, expanding the rib cage to get air traveling down into the lungs. And these neck muscles are simply not designed to be used for the 20,000 breaths we take on an average per day. They get tired. Muscle trigger points are created that can generate headaches, as well as jaw and neck pain.

Overall, we need to understand that one of the important functions of the act of breathing is to stimulate the body to work better.  When we have good posture, the chest naturally opens up to allow space in the lungs, giving the diaphragm the room it needs to function properly. As the diaphragm comes into full expansion, all our organs are being massaged, allowing for a new supply of blood, fluid, and oxygen.

So, remember to breathe deeply, inhaling and exhaling fully. Your back will thank you for it.


*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery