You’ve probably never given it a thought, but the answer may seem as obvious as breathing in and out. But except for those rare occasions when we consciously regulate our breathing pattern, we do not decide when to inhale and when to exhale. And even when we do this “controlled breathing,” it is not just sucking in air, and blowing it out, that gets air down the windpipe into our lungs and out again.
The main work of inhaling and exhaling is done by the contraction and relaxation of our big muscle immediately below the lungs and which marks the “floor” of the chest or thoracic cavity and the “ceiling” of the abdominal cavity.
It is the Diaphragm action that causes the lungs to expand and fill with fresh air, then partially collapses to expel used gases. The muscles and tendons of the Diaphragm are attached to the spinal column at the back, at the front to the breastbone (sternum), and at the lower sides to the lower ribs.
The diaphragm contracts and relaxes as instructed by the brain. Instructions are delivered by the nervous system. When the brain sends a signal to the breathing muscles to contract, the diaphragm is pulled downward, making the space filled by the lungs bigger. This creates a partial vacuum, and air rushes in and fills the lungs. When the diaphragm relaxes, the lung space is reduced, and air is expelled.
The diaphragm is an involuntary muscle. Thankfully, like the heart, it keeps going 24/7 !… and no… you can’t kill yourself by holding your breath.
The Diaphragm muscle’s main role in breathing is supported by several other muscles that play minor parts. These include the Intercostal muscles between the ribs that give the rib cage a slight push upward and outward, enlarging the thoracic cavity, and the Serratus muscles, which are mainly along the ribs, to which other muscles are attached also.
Primary inspiratory muscles include the external intercostals and diaphragm while the main expiratory muscles are the Internal Intercostals, Rectus Abdominus (“abs”), and External and Internal Obliques.
Assisting the inspiratory muscles are the Sternocleidomastoid and Scalenes in the neck, Pectoralis Major and Minor (“pecs”) in the chest, and Serratus Anterior and Latissimus Dorsi (“lats”) in the side of the torso.
Helping us to breathe out is the Serratus Posterior as well as the Quadratus Lumborum and Iliocostalis Lumborum in the back.
These muscles are used in any gym or training session and can often become very tight without you realising it.
Many respiratory muscles also act as “postural” muscles” designed to hold your body erect against gravity and hold a contraction for a long time without fatiguing or feeling sore. But while there may be no pain, these muscles may still be too tight and affect other muscles.
Proper use of the respiratory muscles is only possible with good posture. If there is a tendency to shrink forward, it is not possible to completely fill the lungs with fresh air. If the lower back tends to curve inwards, it is not possible to effectively empty the lungs of air.
When postural problems limit trunk (spinal) rotation and side-bending, both inspiration and expiration become restricted also.
Remedial massage can play an important in helping you breathe easier and feel much better overall by releasing and stretching tight muscles all through the body? That sharp pain felt in the chest or upper back during deep respiration is due to tension in the deep muscles of the back.
Deep tissue massage will help.
Relaxation, both mental and physical, brings about a decrease in oxygen consumption by skeletal muscles and more compliance of the chest wall. Massage and practicing a pattern of deep breaths and sighing can reduce the work of breathing and help relax a person having difficulty breathing. When you breathe easier, you will also sleep easier and more soundly.
Make an appointment today and try a massage which includes all the breathing muscles and see how much better you feel.