The average adult at rest takes around 14 breaths per minute (Simon et al., 2010). That is 840 breaths every hour and 20,160 breaths every day. With 365 days in a year, that is a lot of breathing.
So how do we do it?
Breathing is primarily carried out by contraction and relaxation of the diaphragm and muscles in-between the ribs. When we breathe in, these muscles contract to allow the lungs to expand and for air to be drawn in. When we breathe out, these muscles relax and our lung size reduces and air is pushed out.
When we need to breathe faster (i.e. during exercise) our body recruits neck and abdominal muscles to help expand the lungs further and draw more air in quickly.
Are you a shoulder breather?
When we breathe in, our bellies should push out and our lower ribs should expand as we engage our diaphragm. So called “shoulder breathers” tend to use their neck and shoulder muscles to breathe in, rather than fully engaging their diaphragm. This means that their shoulders move more than their bellies.
Throughout my experience as an Osteopathic Manual Practitioner, I have found thatdesk-based workers, those with anxiety/stress, those withrespiratory conditions (such as asthma or COPD) and long term smokers tend to exhibit this breathing pattern.
Overworking your shoulder muscles can make them tired, tight and congested. This can lead to neck and shoulder muscle soreness and poor posture.
What can you do?
Everyone is different, and so our breathing patterns will differ from one another. An osteopathic assessment can help to identify your breathing pattern. Your osteopathic manual practitioner can use gentle techniques to help reduce particular muscular tensions and encourage better rib movement to help promote better breathing mechanics. Visit our page to learn more about Osteopathy.
You can train yourself to use your diaphragm at home! Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath in and concentrate on pushing your belly out when you breathe in.
Neck & Shoulder Exercises
Stretching* out the muscles around your neck and shoulders can help to reduce muscle soreness, improve posture and promote healthy muscles.
*Please note that it is advisable to check with a healthcare professional first to ensure these exercises are suitable for you.