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What’s your diaphragm got to do with it?

Whilst breathing is our diaphragm’s most important job, you may be surprised to learn it also helps other functions within your body including digestion, immunity (lymphatic flow) and blood flow, all equally critical for your health. So, if your diaphragm is not working well, this can have some surprising effects on your health.

Sitting squashes your diaphragm

Sitting puts pressure on the underneath of our diaphragm, causing it to work harder and then the muscles in our upper chest have to work even more to allow us to breath the same amount of air.  This results in us relying on our small upper chest muscles to breath rather than the much larger diaphragm.

Impact of poor diaphragm function

When we breathe in the diaphragm pushes down on the gut, massaging the gut contents, helping digestion and improving blood flow around the gut. When the diaphragm stops moving down as far because we are using other muscles to breathe, this massaging action doesn’t happen. Also pressure from the diaphragm, on the entrance to the stomach, is one of the most important mechanisms for preventing acid leaking back into the throat.  So poor diaphragm function can contribute to one or more of the following:

  • bloating and/or constipation
  • heartburn/acid reflux
  • hiatus hernia

Breathing and your immunity

Unlike blood flow, lymphatic flow (part of the immune system) does not have a heart pump to move fluid through the vessels; it relies on muscle and joint movement instead. One of the most important muscles for this is – you guessed it – the diaphragm!  Diaphragm movement creates large pressure differences in your body, helping to move this fluid around your body.  If disrupted, this can result in, not only a build-up of fluid in the legs, but also a weaker immune system overall.

The diaphragm workout

In essence, like all muscles in the body the diaphragm needs exercise and the best way is by breathing correctly, ie. diaphragmatic breathing as apposed to upper rib breathing. This way of breathing should be automatic to us all but we often develop bad habits. The following exercise will help you to start using your diaphragm again:

  • Sit comfortably with your knees bent and your shoulders, head and neck relaxed.
  • Place one hand on your upper chest and one on your stomach, just below your ribcage.
  • Breath in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
  • Breath out through pursed lips whilst tightening your stomach muscles and letting them fall inward. The hand on your upper chest should remain as still as possible

Your diaphragm does far more than just breathing and even slight dysfunction can have an impact on your health.  Start to make small changes to your breathing habits now and you will feel the benefits in no time at all.   If you are still struggling with any of these conditions, please do come in and see one of our Osteopaths.

Let us help you achieve better health through correct breathing!