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#060: Is Your Altered Breathing Causing Your Back and Neck Pain?

Altered breathing patterns can cause excessive strain on the neck and lead to improper core stability leading to potential low back pain.

We all have to earn a living, but sometimes we don’t think of the effects of sitting for an extended period has on our physical well being. Welcome to The Modern Desk Jockey, providing you with healthy solutions for the desk worker. Our conversations with industry professionals and topic-based podcasts are guaranteed to keep you active for a healthy more effective work week. Now here’s your host Dr. Kevin Christie.

Hey Desk jockeys welcome to another episode of The Modern Desk Jockey where I provide you with some health and wellness to prevent some of the musculoskeletal and other issues that may occur at the desk and so today’s episode we’re going to touch on something that we haven’t yet but it is extremely important, and that is you’re breathing patterns, and so we’re going to dive into dysfunctional breathing and how to assess that, what to do about it and really how it pertains to your health and so it’s going to be a short episode but jam-packed and I’m going to give you some really good resources that will be in the show notes on actual video of what it looks like to breathe properly and then also a little presentation that helps give you a little bit more of the visual anatomy if you are more of a visual learner. So obviously since this is a podcast, I can only give it to you from an audio standpoint, but I try to give you good information in the show notes to dive into that. The good news is about this is you can get better at this, you really can. You can work on it, and it really will help you out.  Before we dive into it I’m going to reference a couple of articles, one is from Caro app and that’s an article that they utilized and also the video that I’m going to give you is from them and then obviously the YouTube video will have its own reference there and then as I get into this I will bring up the reference and if you’re one of those people that like to dive into it further you have access to that.

So without further ado let’s get into this dysfunctional breathing, it actually refers to a group of disorders including paradoxical breathing which is upper chest breathing, and I’ll break that down a lot more that’s really what’s going to be the meat and potatoes of today’s episode. There’s erratic breathing, there’s breath holding which we’re all familiar with and there’s breathing too deeply or kind of hyperventilation breathing and sometimes it’s not as you know apparent as true hyperventilation where you really see people doing that, but it can be subtle sometimes, and that’s a problem because what happens is these disorders really create significant oxygen deprivation problems, but as well if you breathe in properly paradoxically what it’s called which is you know that upper chest breathing you’re going to overuse some muscles believe it or not around the neck in the chest, and it causes all kinds of musculoskeletal conditions, and it’s a big issue. So let’s break down the anatomy a little bit. What happens with your core is it’s kind of like a canister of muscles around the spine or like a canister around a group a tennis ball. So say the spine is the tennis balls and they can is around the tennis balls is your muscular corset. Around your core area and that really consists of some of the deep muscles like the diaphragm, the deep pelvic floor and then around the spine you have your abdominals, your transverse abdomens, and your internal external obliques. Then you have the back of the muscles like your quadratus lumborum, your lumbar erector spinae muscles. So that really forms this whole muscular corset around the spine, and the top of it is the diaphragm, and the bottom is the pelvic floor, and that helps provide intra-abdominal pressure, and intra-abdominal pressure is key in providing spinal stability, and that’s one of the things a lot of people don’t understand. They know that we need spinal stability like that’s kind of a known, we want to have good spinal stability aka core stability. So we’ve heard that plenty of times but you cannot achieve that unless you have a good intra-abdominal pressure, and that occurs from these muscles all activating properly and so where the breathing comes into play on this is that if you are a paradoxical breather and you’re breathing from the chest, it’s revealing that most likely you have a weak diaphragm movement which is a muscle. So the diaphragm is a muscle, and it’s also not activating it when you’re breathing or if you’re doing activity so it’s a problem and that’s where we’re going to try to make sure that we’re not doing this and so the way to test it and again if you need the visualization of this you can reference the video I’m going to put into the show notes, but what you do is, as a doctor when we’re evaluating a patient we actually would just look without telling you because we don’t want to cue you know. So we look at how you’re breathing and we can see essentially what you need to be doing is breathing from the stomach. So if you’re breathing the expansion should start at the stomach the abdomen not the chest. What happens with the paradoxical breather or the chest breather they start and initiate the breathing with the chest, so they have this expansion of the rib cage up in the chest area and an elevation of the shoulders even, I’m exaggerating it as I do it but that’s where the problem is versus breathing where you see this wave occur from the abdomen and work itself up to the chest that’s proper breathing, and so the way we look at it in the clinical setting is just to observe your breathing in say a seated position or if you’re on your back.

The way you can test it or the way we can do an additional test is if you lay on your back and your feet flat on your knees up. So that’s called the hook line position and then from there you place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest okay and then just take a nice regular breath in and just naturally, don’t try to… you know now that you know some of this information don’t try to fake it but where do you tend to breathe from? Are you feeling it first in the hand that’s over the chest, are you feeling it first that hand that’s over the abdomen? That will let you know if you are a chest breather or a stomach breather and again we want to start from the abdomen. That is going to show the proper function of the diaphragm, and it’s going to allow you to have proper intra-abdominal pressure during certain movements.

If you remember the episode we had or you want to reference back to the one where we talk about the three body positioning in awareness aspects, one of those was abdominal bracing and essentially that abdominal bracing is activating that muscular corset that we discussed but if you are struggling with the breathing component it’s going to be harder for you to really activate that abdominal brace kind of automatically. So like if you can train this well and you do it right when you go to do certain movements or pick certain things up or any type of thing that stresses the spine your brain and your body will actually just automatically put you into a good intra-abdominal pressure and core stability, if you don’t it’s not going to and it’s a really big cause of low back pain and low back conditions. So yeah you’ve heard that right, is that a lot of times your breathing can be a big cause of your low back pain. So if you’re having low back pain you want to make sure you’re addressing this, even if you’re not, you want to check it but this could be the root of it and so we should be able to do an abdominal brace which is you know sitting up nice and tall stern them up and if someone were to like give you a little bit of a stomach jab, you would brace those abdominals and that actually protect your spine and you should be able to do that kind of automatically and that’s where this breathing will help you out. So that is know how to test for it and then you actually can just, you can do that as the actual exercise too. Get in that position and start working on that. You know ideally your breathing rhythm should be a ratio of one to two seconds to inhale followed by six seconds of exhalation and so you can do that as the exercise and that can really help you out. You know you should try to practice maybe two to three breaths hourly and maybe ten to twenty breaths upon waking and going to sleep.

So you in the morning work on getting to some ten to twenty breaths you know the right way. So put your hand on the abdomen, another hand on the chest do it the correct way make sure it’s a three second inhale and a six-second exhalation and then from there do it throughout the day. If you’re sitting at the desk work on that, sit up nice posture, you can do it standing or sitting as well or standing, hand on the abdomen hand on the chest and just do a couple of nice good breaths and do that good ratio and work on the proper type of breathing. So just to kind of reiterate what we want to avoid is what we call paradoxical breathing and that is chest breathing and when you breathe from that chest you’re scalene which are the front of the neck muscle, the upper trapezius and the levator scapulae, all these muscles in your neck are going to elevate those shoulders up excessively and that’s going to become an overuse type of scenario and it’s going to lead to some of your neck pain and headaches and shoulder and so we want to avoid that paradoxical breathing by doing the more natural type of breathing which is going to come from your abdomen and from your diaphragm, and that’s going to also help protect your lumbar spine. So that is proper breathing function, there’s a lot to it but my goal for you today is to understand what paradoxical breathing is, how to avoid it, how to train it, what the proper breathing is for that, this isn’t an episode of like stress relief breathing although if you do maintain good breathing patterns in a good one to two ratio, that we discussed, that will help with your stress levels.

There’s a book that I’ve been reading called The Unbeatable Mind and it’s an ABC it only talks about box breathing and that is just to kind of reduce stress and essentially that’s you know he talks about in the book five-second inhale, hold your breath for side of seconds, exhale for five seconds, hold your breath for five seconds. So kind of like a box zero five, five, five, five on each side there that’s a little different than this but I’ve been utilizing that, and that’s been helpful for stress but if you’re going to do that, any of those type breeding practices you want to make sure that you’re not doing paradoxical breathing. So this is vital to preventing again any type of musculoskeletal pain and just getting proper oxidation to the body. So that is today’s episode, I hope you gained a little bit out of this, and obviously, this stuff will be in the show notes. It can be a very good visual for you to understand what improper reading is and what proper breathing is and then how to do it. So until next week this is going to be your challenge for the week, I’m going to ask you to test yourself and then do the ten to twenty breaths upon waking and going to bed and then doing it throughout the day at your desk, make it a habit, get better breathing, you’ll be amazed by implementing this over a few weeks how it will become seamless, and you will stop having some of the issues with paradoxical breathing, have a great week and I’ll talk to you next week.

Now that you have a better idea of how to improve your physical health while at work let’s take it a few steps further by subscribing to our show and visiting our website, you can find immediate tips, preventative measures and the resources we mentioned earlier to continue to improve your well-being while at work. Tune in next time for more healthy solutions for the desk worker here on the Modern Desk Jockey.