Is stress and posture impacting your breathing so much that your body is suffering?
There is a plethora of reasons why your breathing may have changed recently, and on an anatomical level there are a few key signs that something is impacting this vital mechanism.
When we breathe there is a flow of air into and out of the lungs that comprises of various elements that the body needs to function. The body is fantastic at taking air from the lungs and delivering it to where it is needed. When we have a breathing pattern disorder (BPD) this mechanism is impacted in a negative way.
We’ve all heard of how people under stress can have sore shoulders or a tight neck and for reasons I won’t go into here the limbic system (stress response system) affects certain muscles in this area quite fast. Stress can cause muscles around the neck region to become short and tight and a muscle that is tight will pull on bones and change how things move. Poor posture can also hugely impact the length of these muscles and subsequently how we breathe. Just look at how people hold their mobile phone or sit awkwardly looking at their computer screen and you'll see it first hand.
There are a number of key muscles that assist in the mechanics of breathing and when they don’t function how they were designed to, we don’t breathe properly. This may be a subtle breathing difference, but even a subtle difference is enough. One key BPD is demonstrated by upper chest breathing (UCB). UCB is classically shallow and rapid because our body is trying to get more oxygen into our lungs, oxygen that our default breathing method is no longer allowing. You may experience a feeling of being short of breath or having to take deeper breaths more frequently, sighing more often is also a commonly associated symptom.
The average human takes anywhere between 14,400 to 20,000 breaths every single day! With lots of exercise this may move to 40,000 breaths every day. That’s 20,000 contractions of the entire breathing mechanism that isn’t operating ideally every single day. Oxygen in the blood helps to maintain the pH balance between acid and alkaline within our body (pH 7.35 – pH 7.45), without enough oxygen the blood pH starts to move and it is this shift that can have a big knock-on effect to the body. The body will sacrifice many other things in order to keep the pH balanced and the adaptations that the body will go through when we have chronic BPD to get more oxygen are as follows:
* Pelvic floor weakness and weakened abdominal muscles.
* Fascial restriction from the central tendon all the way up to the basiocciput.
* Elevated upper ribs.
* Thoracic spine will be disturbed.
* Tight scalenes, upper trapezius and levator scapulae muscles.
* Fibrosis of muscles and trigger points.
* A reduction in the mobility of the 2nd cervical segment and second rib.
* Shortening of the quadratus lumborum, iliopsoas, and transversus muscles.
The above points can lead to more and more pain over a period of time if not assessed and corrected, leading to seemingly unrelated problems.
What should you do if you feel you have BPD? Get your posture checked and begin the journey of anatomical correction with a professional to deal with the physical aspect (see April Blog). Look into stress reduction techniques to limit the limbic systems impact on the muscles that aid/effect breathing. Mindfulness and meditation can be a real 'game changer' (I recommend reading ‘The Power Of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle). Over time your breathing pattern can return to optimal and the body will no longer need to go into adaptation for this issue.
(If you have concerns regarding your breathing please get yourself checked out by your GP to ensure there are no underlying health conditions that need addressing).
Is posture your key to health? April 2021
Posture, something that we just do, right? Well yes, but is yours good, or less than good for you?
If you trawl the internet you’ll find some very in-depth documents about ‘optimal’ posture, but let's be honest, how many of us really look at this and pay attention to it throughout our day?
The truth is, your body knows about the effects of your posture - whether you are conscious of it or not. Here in lies the issue, I don’t want you ‘thinking’ about your posture, I want your posture to be good for you without you having to pay much attention to it, I want it to become part of your natural being – ‘It’s just how my body stands and moves’.
Good posture lines the ‘bricks' of your body (Skull, Vertabrae, Pelvis etc) one on top of the other. When the bricks are out of alignment your body has to ask questions of the muscles: ‘muscle can you please start to act like bone and take on way to much postural responsibility because the bricks are all over the place’. The muscle responds with ‘Yes, I can, but understand that I’m not designed for that job and as time passes I’m going to start to hurt you’. A key muscle that does this is your Quadratus Laburnum (QL). Located in your lower back region this muscle is often responsible for the feeling of lower back pain as it begins to do some of the job of your lumbar vertebrae.
So, what’s the starting point for you? Take a picture of your body from the front and from the side stood normally or ask a friend to look at you. Look at the images above (red muscles are usually short/tight, pink muscles are usually long/weak) and see if you have similarities to any of these postural issues. This will help you identify the long/weak and short/tight muscles (See March blog for more information). From here, stretching of the associated muscles that are short/tight can take place, though the long/weak will still need strengthening. I highly recommend doing this with a qualified professional with a C.H.E.K. background if you are serious about healing your pain.
(It is important to realise that just because you have similarities to one of the classic postural issues does not mean that you fit the exact short/tight muscle imbalance as the body is a complicated compensator – again I would recommend an assessment by a professional with a C.H.E.K background).
How stretching can heal your body March 2021
Let's be honest, most people don't stretch. I used to be one of them.
But the bigger truth is, most people don't know why or what to stretch. Let's address this here:
Your muscles work best when they work in balance. A joint, like your hip joint, has multiple muscles working together to give support and movement to the joint. For a number of reasons (poor posture, injury, inactivity etc) our bodies get into bad habits and this working balance of muscles can become... unbalanced.
Over a period of time this can lead to pain. One reason for pain is due to our 'tonic' muscles going progressively short and tight. The tonic muscles do this in response to what is called 'faulty loading patterns' . Poor posture is a classic reason for faulty loading patterns. That's not just your standing or sitting posture it's your moving posture too. The other muscles are known as 'phasic' muscles. Phasic muscles respond to faulty loading by going long and weak and they need a different approach.
When a muscle goes short and tight we experience pain and that horrible feeling of a muscle that feels like it's 'holding on', usually acompanied by the thought, 'If I were to run I'd probably tear something'.
You don't need to do 'corrective stretching' to every muscle in your body, but you need to stretch the short and tight tonic muscles. Stretching the long and weak phasic muscles is usually a bad idea and a mistake that many people make. The phasic muscles are already long, don't make them longer or you're just going to make things worse. These long and weak phasic muscles actually need to be strengthened and that's where having a specialist design your training program to target the phasic muscles comes in.
The name of the game is to identify which muscles are short and tight and do corrective stretches on those muscles. Be very aware though, your right hamstring might be tighter than your left hamstring, for example, so you absolutely must stretch your right hamstring twice and your left hamstring once until balance between right and left has been acheived. Combine intelligent corrective stretching with intelligent functional training and you're well on your way to healing.
(Corrective stretches - Held for 30 seconds and are done to change the length of muscles. Best performed daily).
(Dynamic stretches - Performed to prepare the body for activity not to make perminant changes to muscle length).