Massage and Improved Breathing

Massage and Improved Breathing

Normal breathing involves the synergistic movement of the upper and lower rib cage and the abdomen as well as the pivotal involvement of the diaphragm muscles. Your breath plays a major role in your health and well-being.

The body’s respiratory system functions with the support of the many muscles in the upper part of the body. In order to experience balanced and complete breathing, it is vital that these muscles, especially those around the abdomen and ribs are relaxed and able to allow free flow of air throughout the body.


Breathing Pattern Disorders

When breathing is abnormal, the entire body is affected and the neurological, psychological, digestive and circulatory systems can be negatively impacted.

Dysfunctional breathing or Breathing Pattern Disorders (BPD) is evidenced by shallow and rapid breath patterns also known as hyperventilation. These breath patterns originate only from the upper chest and use only upper body muscles (sternocleidomastoid, upper trapezius, and scalene muscles) during respirations.

BPD can lead to a deficiency of carbon dioxide in the blood and the reduction of oxygen flow to tissues. The ultimate outcomes of these physiological imbalances can result in such varied problems as increased anxiety, muscle tone issues, changes in blood pH (acidity/alkalinity) due to imbalances in carbon dioxide and oxygen distribution and release, increased sensitivity to pain and nervous system issues.

Imbalanced breathing habits can develop over time in response to poor posture, stressful living, lack of exercise, or repetitive and prolonged activities such as the use of computers (hunched over a keyboard for long hours at work). Breath anomalies can also include the opposite of hyperventilation and present as frozen (breath holding) respirations.


Symptoms of Underlying BPD

Studies have linked numerous ailments and impairments to potential underlying BPD. Here are a few of the issues that healing breathing imbalances may support:

  • low back pain, neck pain, or trigger point issues
  • fatigue,
  • irritable bowel symptoms, chronic bladder problems,
  • allergies, chemical sensitivities, headaches,
  • unhealthy blood levels of glucose,
  • increase in LDL and cholesterol levels,
  • decrease in repair and growth of bone,
  • decrease in the ability to grow skin and gut cells,
  • decreased immune cell production,
  • calcium and magnesium deficiencies resulting in cramps, muscle spasms and pain due to excretions from the kidneys to maintain physical acid/alkaline balance,
  • poor posture, spine instability, motor control deficiencies and dysfunctional or adapted movement.



Signs and Symptoms of BPD

The presence of BPD in individuals can result in the following presentations:

  • restless and fidgety behavior and movement;
  • constant sighing, (also known as ‘air hunger’) as the body attempts to force air into the lungs even though the exhale has not been completed;
  • rapid swallowing rate that often results in bloating;
  • inability to comfortably hold the breath for more than 15 seconds;
  • a perceptible rise of just the shoulders during inhalation;
  • imbalanced breathing during inhalation as evidenced by the chest rising before the stomach/diaphragm;
  • development of prominent cords in the neck muscles (sternomastoid)
  • rapid breathing rate over 18 breaths per minute;
  • muscular stiffness, neck and shoulder discomfort, fatigue, brain-fog, IBS, chronic pain, tendency to anxiety and panic, cold extremities and the inability to take a deep breath;
  • frozen breathing pattern that is demonstrated by superficial and breath-holding characteristics.


How Massage Therapy Can Help

Many of the techniques in massage therapy including Swedish massage protocols can improve breathing disorders and support better health in individuals:

  • Massage therapy helps lengthen and relax the smooth muscles especially in the diaphragm area, intercostal muscles, and abdominal connective tissue to assist in releasing constricted blood flow and oxygen delivery due to breathing impairment issues.
  • Massage improves the air capacity for optimal respiratory function and reduces the tightened fascial tone that results from the rise of pH in the blood.
  • Manual therapy releases and stretches the upper body muscles especially in pectorals and shoulder area as well as relaxes associated trigger points for better respiratory capacity.
  • Swedish massage techniques can loosen any mucus in the lungs and clear the way for improved lung function.
  • As indicated in our last post, massage can improve posture, which opens the chest area and rib cage making way for best lung function and full breathing potential.
  • Massage affects the function of the parasympathetic nervous system which helps slow breathing rates to healthy and optimal levels for relaxation.
  • Lymph pump and drainage therapy methods help the mobility of the thoracic spine and ribs to loosen any constrictions that prevent full breath capability.


Manual therapy/massage help prepare the body’s structures for better breathing and set the stage to utilize the physiology to deal with stress, pain and low energy more effectively and gently. Massage practices naturally ally with the body to train the individual how to use the breath for optimal well-being and health.

What have you noticed in your own breathing habits – do you suffer from any of the symptoms above? Feel free to share or ask questions in the Comments section below.

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