Can Diaphragmatic Breathing Help a Bad Back?

My opinion is YES!

You would be hard pressed to find a more simple and powerful health strategy as Diaphagmatic Breathing. Best of all, it’s time efficient and it costs NOTHING!

Research suggests that just 6 minutes a day can improve your health.

And the two great benefits to breathing correctly is to reduce ‘stress’ and ‘inflammation’ in the body.

How we breathe can create an increased state of stress in our body, or on the flip side, can dramatically reduce our stressful state.  

Stress is a major contributor to back problems and many other health problems, so learning to breathe to reduce stress and control our emotional state can be invaluable.

Chronic back pain is simply not just a musculoskeletal problem, it is a health problem.

Most people are aware that chronic back pain needs strengthening exercises, however they are often less aware of the need to approach back pain much more holistically with lifestyle strategies such as diaphragmatic breathing.

We have a series of webinars on this topic – Adaptive Wellbeing – which features 10 important Lifestyle Strategies to build wellbeing.

Adaptive Wellbeing – Breathwork Webinar

Our introductory Diaphragmatic Breathing called Adaptive Wellbeing – Module 3 Breathwork discusses a modern understanding of true health and wellbeing. It explores chronic inflammation in detail, and how to measure it using Heart Rate Variability or HRV.

It may be beneficial to view our ADAPTIVE Wellbeing Seminar first before viewing our diaphragmatic breathing webinar.

How Breathing Affects the Musculoskeletal System

Breathing into the diaphragm is an essential part of pelvic-core stability. 

The abdominal pressure generated by the co-activation of these muscles help stabilise the spine from the front.

Figure 1 (above) shows the different types of postures which lead to the imbalance in these muscles. When stabilisation is lost, injury becomes more likely and poor posture and performance can develop.

Our basic foundational exercises and chiropractic adjustments work well together to correct imbalances here.  To help maintain this correction, we always recommend an individualised breathing technique.

Figure 2.  Establishing intra-abdominal pressure by expansion of the abdominal wall in all directions helps stabilise low back and pelvis function.

We assess ‘diaphragm function’ in Fig. 2 by looking at the correct breathing movements.

When a person inhales, we check for the following:

  • Dropping of the ribcage down toward the pelvis, and expansion out to the sides;
  • Symmetric expansion of the core muscles at the side of spine/and torso below the ribs.

Be careful not to ‘suck your core in’ like Fig. 2 – Incorrect.

Symmetric expansion of the lower abdominal wall should occur above the bony outcrop of the pelvis above the hips. There should be no hunching in the mid back, and timing of the expansion should be at the start the breath cycle and be symmetric.

Looking at the front, proper breathing should not involve lifting of the ribcage and shoulders.

This is a common problem, that overuses the wrong muscle groups, in the shoulder and neck, like the upper traps. THIS ADDS to the constantly tight neck!

Shallow breathing or chest breathing is a common cause of tight shoulder muscles and can shorten the hip flexor muscles through the pelvis, just like incorrect sitting or poor ergonomic set up.

Improving Health vs Treating Symptoms

As chiropractors, we can have success in relieving symptoms of common conditions like back and neck pain, sciatica, migraines, or plantar fasciitis (1) using techniques such as adjustments, muscle activation, mobilisation, or cold laser therapy.

Here at Blue Align Chiro, we like to go deeper than that and help people build their health.

Lifestyle interventions like diaphragmatic breathing are not treatments for symptoms like headaches or back pain. Rather, they help improve the adaptability of your autonomic nervous system, boosting its ability to help your body heal.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing provides a chance to unwind from the stress of life, to refocus, and retune your mind and body. It’s one of the 10 lifestyle interventions we explore in our Adaptability Workshop.

How Do You Diaphragmatic Breath?

There are many different ways to diaphragmatic breath. Some of the more common techniques we include in our webinar include:

  • Tumo Breathing, which is the style the now very famous Wim Hoff recommends. Tumo breathing is a form of hyperventilation that drives carbon dioxide out of your blood stream. It creates a rapid change in your physiology.
  • Box Breathing is a technique used by the military to reduce anxiety, stress  and stay calm under pressure.  Box breathing involves equal counts inhale, hold, exhale, hold.
  • Resonance Frequency Breathing has the ability to entrain, organise and regulate other oscillating systems (like the heart), helping them to also oscillate at their optimal (resonance) frequency. Resonance breathing is basically a breathing pattern which optimises the efficiency of other bodily systems.

Some of the recent research into Resonance Frequency Breathing has shown that it can help people with a range of different conditions. It has been shown to assist in the control of blood pressure, help patients with panic disorder, anxiety and depression, reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia and irritable bowel, and improve symptom control, gas exchange and lung function in asthma, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).

What are the Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing?

Diaphragmatic breathing can help you to manage stress. Studies show that it increases your ability to regulate your emotions and maintain your composure.

Depending on the type of diaphragmatic breathing you practice, the benefits may include:

  • Decreasing stress
  • Lessen impulsive, emotional reactions
  • Reduce depression, and anxiety
  • Reducing pain and inflammation
  • Improved sleep (or decrease insomnia)
  • Improved focus/cognitive ability
  • Improved memory
  • Improved relationships
  • Overall quality of life
  • Improved Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

Diaphragmatic Breathing & Adaptability

Diaphragmatic breathing has another very important benefit. As noted above, it can improve cognitive functions like memory and focus, and helps you manage stress and its knock-on effects like anxiety or disturbed sleep.

Psychological research shows us that people with higher cognitive performance and better psychological stress resilience also tend to have good heart rate variability (HRV), which signifies a well-balanced autonomic nervous system (ANS).

What does that mean?

Your ANS controls important functions like your breathing, heartbeat and digestion – things that happen constantly inside you without any deliberate thought or effort on your part. Your ANS also controls your heart rate variability, or the gaps between your heartbeats, which can vary quite a bit as your heart doesn’t beat in a perfectly regular rhythm.

Ideally, you want high HRV with more variation between your heartbeats. That indicates you have a well-balanced ANS, which adapts easily from a state of stress or excitement back to a state of relaxation. You still get stressed – but you’re able to calm down again, rather than living in an ongoing state of heightened tension.

That adaptability is good for your health. When your ANS is able to adapt to stress and change, you’ll tend to be less susceptible to inflammation and disease, making you healthier overall. An adaptable ANS is linked to positive health outcomes like mental clarity, athletic performance and strong immune function. The opposite is also true – a poorly functioning ANS puts you at greater risk of many common diseases.

Adaptability Webinar

If you’re interested in learning more about how to improve your adaptability, join our Free Online.

We’ll show you how to proactively manage your current and future health through simple and measurable strategies, including measuring your heart rate variability (HRV). We’ll help you apply 9 simple lifestyle interventions, including meditation, that can be adapted to suit your individual situation. You’ll also learn how to measure the effectiveness of those interventions on your overall wellbeing.



DISCLAIMER: All content is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

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