How can exercising your lungs ease pain in your back? At first, it may seem rather odd to think of breathing as a treatment for back pain. It works surprisingly well, though.
Catch a breath
You take about 20,000 breaths a day.
You may take a few deliberately deep breaths before a difficult conversation or you might try to regulate your breathing during strenuous exercise. Mostly though, your lungs inflate and deflate without much conscious effort from you, continuing to do their thing even while you sleep.
What’s the link between breathing and back pain?
Your lungs can hold up to 6 litres of air if you’re a relatively healthy adult. But breathing involves more than your lungs.
Each time you inhale, your diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle below your lungs, tightens and moves down to make space for your lungs to expand as they fill with air. Breathing is also aided by your abdominals and some smaller muscles in your back that connect to the 5 vertebrae in your lumbar spine (between your rib cage and pelvis).
Remember, you’re taking 20,000 breaths a day – probably double your step count. It means that your breathing muscles are some of the hardest workers in your body. That’s why your breathing technique has implications for your back.
Many of us don’t breathe particularly well. You may take shallow breaths because you’re feeling anxious, stressed or hurried. You may also develop an unusual breathing pattern if you have a respiratory condition like asthma or COPD.
Common breathing mistakes include:
- Breathing shallowly from your chest
- Lifting your shoulders towards your ears as you breathe
- Using one lung more than the other.
Over time, breathing like this can strain the muscles, bones and ligaments in your back. It’s a hidden contributor to back pain.
Changing your breathing is a natural way to treat your pain. Deep breathing not only strengthens the right muscles and evens the workload, it also reduces your stress levels and reduces your perception of pain.
5 breathing exercises to ease back pain
These exercises can be all done at home (or even at your desk) without any equipment.
- Back opening breathing
Doing this well should result in a longer spine, more support from your lower abs and less tension in your neck and shoulders.Inhale, noticing the air going right down towards the bottom of your lungs, then starting to fill up the back and lifting your ribcage off your hips.Exhale, pulling in your lower abs towards your back. As you can continue exhaling, allow your shoulder blades to drop and your neck to lift. Repeat a few times.
This focuses on a deep exhale. Start by lying or sitting comfortably and breathing out gently through your mouth. Now you’re ready.4 – breath in through your nose while counting slowly to 4
7 – hold your breath while counting slowly to 7
8 – Breathe out through your mouth while counting slowly to 8 until your lungs empty.Repeat a few times.
- Diaphragmatic breathing
Your diaphragm is a strong breathing muscle that sits below your lungs. Diaphragmatic breathing is a deep style of breathing that flexes the diaphragm rather than than the ribcage. You’ll notice that your stomach rises rather than your chest because you’ve sucked air deeper into your lungs. Your breathing will be slower because you’re making the air travel further and that will also help to relax you and draw more oxygen into your body.You can lie or sit for this exercise. Start by placing one hand on your chest and the other below your rib cage so you can feel where your breath is going.Breathe in slowly through your nose and feel your stomach moving out while your chest stays fairly still.Purse your lips and slowly exhale. Do this for 5 minutes a few times a day.
- Equal breathing 4-4
This exercise aims to even your breathing. Breathe in slowly to a count of 4, pause, then breath out slowly to a count of 4. And repeat.
- Hold your breath
Breathe in slowly, imagining that you’re sucking up all the available air. Hold for as long as you possibly can then slowly breathe out through your mouth. Exhale for as long as you can to completely expel all the remaining air in your lungs. Repeat.
How can Physionorth help with back pain?
If you’re living with ongoing back pain, it’s important to see a physiotherapist who can identify the cause and recommend appropriate treatment, which may include breathing exercises, manual therapy or other exercises to strengthen your body and reduce your pain.
Our skilled team at Physionorth would love to help you. Make an appointment here.
All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion.