The diaphragm is the primary muscle of respiration. It is a thin domed shaped muscle that separates the abdominal and chest cavity.
The diaphragm attaches to the costals in the lower rib cage, high in the front at the sternum and deep in the back at the spine. It also attaches to itself through the central tendon. The central tendon flattens during inspiration leading to the ribs to expand to make room for the organs such as the lungs. In this blog we look at why the diaphragm is so important to us.
1) We can contract the diaphragm muscle voluntarily but it will already be contracting subconsciously (without us telling it to). You can contract the diaphragm by taking a long slow breath which expands the rib cage and allowing the stomach to relax.
2) It can help mobilise the ribs, thoracic and lumbar through the attachment of the diaphragm to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd vertebrae, the lower 6 ribs as well as the back of the sternum. When you breathe in, the diaphragm flattens allowing the lungs to fill with air, it will gently “pull” on each of the attachments effectively giving each a gentle mobilisation.
3) The diaphragm helps to create dynamic stability. This is by working closely with the pelvic floor, abdominal muscles and lower back to provide stability during movement.
4) The diaphragm can help lower back pain, due to the relationship with the pelvic floor. This relationship controls the pressures within the abdomen and pelvis. Using a correct breathing pattern will restore optimal pressures needed to control movements and support the pelvic organs.
5) The nervous system can be “calmed down” by slower controlled breathing. The breath is connected to the autonomic nervous system and when we feel stressed or anxious we are using the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight mode). This activates a much shorter breathing pattern using shallow breaths to get as much oxygen in to our muscles as fast as possible. The parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) is activated when we are in a more calm or relaxed state. This is when we take a long calm breath. Breathing can help to promote relaxation, reduced anxiety, reduced stress.
6) As previously discussed, the diaphragm and pelvic floor work closely together and control pressure through the pelvis and for this reason slowing down our breathing can help pelvic pain. As we breathe in, the diaphragm contracts and flattens, the pelvic floor relaxes to accept the contents of the abdomen. Then, as we breathe out, the diaphragm relaxes and returns to its starting position and the pelvic floor activates slightly. Long slow breathing encourages the pelvic floor to relax and therefore, reduce pain in anyone suffering with tender pelvic floor muscles.
In conclusion, correct breathing mechanics has a huge effect on lower back pain, pelvic pain as well as anxiety, stress and our levels of relaxation.