In our first post, we briefly mentioned how bad posture, neck pain, and respiratory function are all related. This relationship is worth a closer examination, too, as improving the way you breath is a key to better posture, reduced pain, and less stress.
At first glance, posture and breathing may seem like separate bodily functions of the body. But when you understand how each one works, you can see that they are deeply interconnected, and that the health of one function can directly impact the other.
The diaphragm is the main muscle of respiration. It’s a dome–shaped muscle located between the chest and abdomen that contracts and relaxes during different points of the breathing cycle. When you take a breath in, the diaphragm contracts until it becomes flat to create room in the chest cavity for the lungs to expand, which lifts the ribs outward. Intercostal muscles, located between the ribs, also assist the diaphragm by elevating the ribcage to allow more air into your lungs. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and assumes its full dome shape, while the ribcage contracts and returns to its original resting state.
Poor posture, especially when seated, keeps the diaphragm compressed and prevents it from opening fully when breathing. Similarly, rounded shoulders and a forward head posture can cause the muscles around the chest to tighten. This limits the ribcage from expanding completely and causes people to take more rapid, shallow breaths.
There is also potential for a vicious cycle to develop between posture and breathing. Breathing from the chest relies on secondary muscles in the neck and collarbone instead of the diaphragm, and when this breathing pattern occurs along with poor posture, it can weaken many muscles in the upper body and prevent them from functioning properly. Having weak core and upper back muscles makes it more difficult to practice good posture, and these two forces continue to impact one another in a cyclical fashion. Over time, this can lead to the development of many of the painful conditions we’ve described, such as neck, back, or shoulder pain.
Since breathing and posture are so closely intertwined, taking steps to improve one of these functions will likely have a positive impact on the others and lead to several other benefits as well. Keeping a slow, steady breathing pattern has been found to enhance core stability, improve tolerance to high–intensity exercise, and reduce the risk for muscle fatigue and injury. Paying more attention to your breath may also improve sleep habits and alleviate stress and anxiety, since breath focus is considered a common feature in several techniques intended to put one in a state of calm. Below are a few examples of breathing techniques and other exercises that can help you take better control of your breath and posture:
In our next and final post, we’ll show you why physical therapy may be necessary to if you want to commit to improving your posture.