Breathing better is feeling better
Updated: Nov 5, 2019
Dr Jason Lee
We all breathe, but HOW we breath matters
Breathing is more than oxygen, it helps move blood and fluids through the body.
Breathing techniques are proven to help calm nervous system and help us relax.
Breathing helps our immune system be more efficient and therefore helps with injury recovery.
As Osteopaths, we can help you improve your breathing, feel better and recovery faster.
We all breathe from the moment we’re born, we can think about it and control the rate and depth, but thankfully breathing just happens even without us consciously commanding our diaphragm to move air in and out of our lungs.
We breathe because we need oxygen, but that need doesn’t stop at the lungs. Our lungs just happens to be the site and mechanism that collects, swaps, and expels the right gasses for us. Our need for oxygen stems from the cellular level. Each cell that collectively makes up all of us requires oxygen to do its thing, in the process produce carbon dioxide as waste, which we then purge from our system. Blood circulation plays the major role here in ferrying nutrients and waste to and from the appropriate destinations in our body. But you knew this from high school science, so what’s the big deal?
Osteopaths, are particularly interested in the interconnectedness of physiological systems in the human body. Brace yourself for the mad rantings of this osteopath on breathing! We know just how important it is to get our patients recovering fast!
The simple rhythmic oscillation of the diaphragm does more than just expand and contract our lungs to move air. The body is efficient, and would never let such a goldmine of energy go to waste.
Breathing for better blood flow
Since we’ve already touched on blood flow, we know its role in nutrient and waste delivery. But the efficiency of moving venous blood back to the heart is greatly improved with the increase of chest pressure. The pump motion in the lungs creates changes in pressure that alter the diameter of the vena cava, which increases the efficiency of venous return.
Improvements in diaphragm function (the main breathing muscle) has been linked with preventing issues relating to venous drainage. You might think how does blood return effect circulation in general? Blood circulation is a (relatively) closed system, so better return flow will positively affect blood delivery from the heart. Improved diaphragm function will help blood flow to our arms and legs, which can reduce the strain on the heart, and be particularly beneficial to individuals with cardiac issues such as chronic heart failure.
Breathing and the lymphatic system
Following on from blood flow, lymphatics is an important but often neglected function when we look at body systems. Lymphatics picks up everything else our veins leave behind and returns it to venous blood circulation. This also means swelling and fluid retention in tissues. The lymphatics forms a crucial part of our immune system.
A key downfall with lymphatics though is there is no primary driver for its movement like blood does with the heart, so lymph flow is typically sporadic and slow. Incidental muscle contractions throughout the body during movement helps push lymph along, and the diaphragm being such a constant source of free incidental movement plays a significant role in this. Conveniently located just under the diaphragm is the cisterna chyli, a collection pit for lymph before it goes through the diaphragm and back into the heart. Here the incidental pump that is the diaphragm is taken full advantage of.
A better functioning diaphragm leads to a healthier lymphatic system which means we have less infections, and recover faster should we do become ill or injured
We know the diaphragm contracts to pull on the lungs. What also happens is the pelvic diaphragm (floor) moves to compensate for this constant rise and fall. The reciprocal and symmetrical changes keeps the pressure in your abdomen fairly constant, which is a good thing. Can you imagine the extra pressure on your bowls or bladder every time you take a deep breath?
The ribs also play a part in breathing. There’s a reason the harder organs are stuffed up against the diaphragm. As it contracts, it uses the liver, spleen and stomach as a fulcrum. Part of the diaphragm’s depression is translated into lifting and flaring of the lower ribs. Muscles in the neck contract to lift the upper ribs, while muscles between each rib help to pull each subsequent rib up.
The net effect being a lifted and flared ribcage and depressed diaphragm in one synchronised movement that maximises air intake. This is more noticeable when we exert more effort to breathe, like when in cardio training. The simple act of breathing has a myriad of synchronised and sequenced mechanisms, should any one component not perform to its potential, the effects are felt throughout the system.
Breathing and the Nervous System
Breathing is automatic. We can hold our breaths and stop it, but the breathing centres (and self-preservation) wins out eventually. It matches your level of physical activity, but it also matches your physiological and mental states. With stress your heart rate increases, as does your breathing. This is a normal physiological response to prepare you for fight or flight.
Interestingly enough, your heart rate and breathing is so tied that changing one dictates the other to change in response. You can try this yourself taking your own pulse and simply breathe. You’ll notice a difference in heart rate between air intake and air release.
One common exercise in stress reduction that almost all meditation modalities employ is breathing. Purposely lengthening and deepening air movement in and out of the lungs forces a corresponding change heart rate.
Heart rate and breathing both have direct neurological links back to the central nervous system which ties in with every other body system. Being able to purposely dial back the stress response will promote the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes healthy function of digestion and other viscera, as well as changing our moods and improving cognitive function.
The diaphragm might just be a simple muscle that continuously contracts and relaxes, but its relationships with the entirety of the body are many and far reaching. We as osteopaths have a particular interest in keeping this mechanism functionally at its best, to give the rest of the body the best possible chance at recovery and health.
As primary health care practitioners, our Osteopaths at Southside Wellbeing are leaders in the treatment of breathing and breathing disorders and treatment can help with the severity and/or improve the recovery of conditions such as Asthma, Bronchitis, COPD, and acute chest infections.
If you would like to speak to one of our Osteopaths directly, we welcome your call! We are here to help.
Dr Jason Lee is a practicing Osteopath at Southside Wellbeing in Gardenvale. He is available for further advice on headaches and other musculo-musculoskeletal conditions should you wish to address cause of symptoms and improve your health. Jason is focused on getting his patients back to doing the things they love through Osteopathic
treatment, exercise rehabilitation and other lifestyle advice.
Appointments can be made online or call us on 95306449 or on our website here.