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Do you have lower back pain? If not, you are in the minority, roughly 85% of the general population in the US experiences back pain at some point during their life. Also, back pain is the second most common reason for seeing a doctor in the U.S., followed by coughs and other respiratory infections.
Whether you have experienced back pain at some point or not, this article will provide insight and action steps you can take to keep your back moving well, staying strong and more resilient to future issues. Just like brushing your teeth on a regular basis to avoid cavities, daily maintenance of your spine goes a long way in preventing future problems.
Solving Your Back Pain and the Missing Link
While studies demonstrate that a majority of Americans experience lower back pain, very few seek formal treatment or have an understanding of how it started or how to manage it.
What if I told you something as simple as how you breathe could play a major role in your discomfort and might be a major contributor to your lower back pain?
If this sounds strange, we’re with you! But hear us out, by adding ONE easy exercise to your weekly routine, you will learn how to kick lower back pain to the curb.
Quick Dive on the Fundamentals of Breathing as it Relates to Back Pain
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To understand how breathing may be contributing to your lower back pain, we must first understand some very basic anatomy. Hang with me!
There are two key muscles in our body that work together to allow us to breathe. The first and most well known is the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that functions like a parachute to help our lungs draw air into our body.
Directly opposing the diaphragm is a group of muscles called the Pelvic Floor or sometimes referred to as the Pelvic Diaphragm. These muscles synchronize with the diaphragm to allow us to breathe. Cool… so what does it all mean!??
For a well-functioning body, the diaphragm and pelvic floor should be pointing towards each other. This allows for pressure to be built up within our abdominal region which helps support our spine and protect our lower back.
When these two muscles point at each other as shown in the image above, we typically see the muscles in the front of the body (deep core muscles) and the back of the body (low back muscles) have proper muscle length. This is CRITICAL to the way that our lower back feels.
Understanding The Problem – How Bad Breathing Technique Leads to Back Pain
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We have already discussed how, ideally, the diaphragm and pelvic floor should be pointing TOWARDS each other. However, a prevalent finding in people reporting chronic low back pain is that these muscles point AWAY from each other, which is the result of the angle of the rib cage and the pelvis, often from poor posture.
In the “optimal” situation, what you find is that as the person breathes in, the diaphragm moves down, which creates pressure within the abdominal cavity. If you have ever pushed down on french press coffee pot or can visualize a piston going up and down in an engine. This built-up pressure causes the organs in the stomach to expand outwards. Hence the term “belly breathing.”
However, when someone’s posture is “not optimal,” the arrows do NOT point at each other, and less pressure is created within the abdominal cavity. Ultimately, this will lead to less stability of the spine and rather than the diaphragm moving down expanding the belly outward, people end up breathing up into their chest. This often results in the muscles of the neck and shoulders lifting the rib cage up to get air into the lungs, which often leads to chronic tension and soreness in the muscles of the neck and upper back. Also, this tends to lead to overactivation and contraction of muscles in the lower back each breath; there should be very little use of these muscles during normal “belly breathing.”
When you think about the fact that we breathe 20,000 times per day, it is no surprise that we would begin to see some structural changes over time with this type of improper breathing.
From a muscle standpoint, what you can see are the muscles of the lower back become overused and shorter which often is associated with being TIGHTER. The deep core muscles become longer which is usually is associated with being WEAKER.
If these muscles are allowed to function at their regular “muscle length” and improve the activation of the diaphragm, this will often allow the angle of the pelvic floor and the diaphragm to be more optimally positioned. There is a really good chance that if you are someone who experiences back pain, focusing on proper breathing can lead to a quick and significant improvement.
Getting to GOAL! – Establishing Better Breathing for a Healthier Back
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Tight muscles need length
Weak muscles need activating (“Turning On”)
The key to creating lasting change in this scenario is to lengthen the tight muscles (lower back) and activate the elongated muscles (deep core muscles). The reason why stretching alone doesn’t yield long-term results is because it only addresses half the equation.
One of the easiest ways to lengthen the muscles in our low back is to lay on our back on the floor and put our feet onto a chair at a 90˚ angle. Doing this will begin to lengthen the muscles in the low back and allow these muscles to truly relax. But don’t get too excited yet, we still need to activate the other side.
You can feel this in a standing or seated position…give it a try now.
4 seconds in, 8 seconds out
While in this position, use the breathing ratio above for 5 repetitions. What happens is we begin to alter our pelvis and ribcage position so that our lower back muscles can actually STAY relaxed rather than stay chronically tight.
Give this a shot once and I’d wager that you will feel the difference. To really see lasting results, I would recommend 5 repetitions per day in this position for 2-3 weeks. It should only takes two minutes. Do this and you’ll move better, feel better, and live better.
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Disclaimer: Vimocity does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
If you experience any pain with any movements immediately stop and consult a qualified healthcare provider.