Anytime someone says, “I carry all of my stress in my shoulders,” what I hear them saying is, “I shallow breathe frequently!” or “my posture really stinks and I shallow breathe frequently!”.
Deep breathing exercises can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and help in neck pain relief. Breathing exercises can be done lying down, seated or standing (we recommend practicing in the lying position at first). Shallow breathing can lead to neck pain, jaw pain, shoulder pain, headaches, shoulder blade pain, and indigestion/hiatal hernia. Shallow breathing, or breath holding, causes the muscles in the front of the neck, the scalene muscles, to become overworked. This pattern of dysfunctional breathing coupled with poor posture frequently leads to overcompensation in other muscles of the neck and shoulders. The pain pattern for the scalene muscles may be felt in the shoulder and even down the arm to the hand. Chest breathing can cause an increase in blood pressure and decrease the volume of air in the lungs causing the neck muscles to work extra to lift the ribcage (not what they were designed to do).
An article related to breathing and neck pain in Medical Hypotheses, 2007 Oct 22; Neck pain causes respiratory dysfunction; describes a presumptive mechanism for the development of changes in respiratory function due to chronic neck pain.
Deep breathing is also known as “diaphragmatic” or belly breathing. When you breathe properly, using your diaphragm, oxygen is able to reach all parts of your lungs and more oxygen can then get into your bloodstream. More oxygen in your body provides improved energy and health. If you watch children play you will notice that they breathe with their diaphragms, instinctively. Many adults, on the other hand appear to breathe with their shoulders. A deep breath for many of us involves bring the shoulders up around the ears and tensing the abdomen. This is exactly opposite to what you want to do if your trying to relaxes your body. Shoulder breathing not only promotes shoulder muscle tension, it also prevents air from getting to the bases of the lungs resulting in less efficient breathing.The art of deep breathing is rather simple. Begin by lying on your back in a quiet room. Place your hand on your solar plexus just below your rib cage and feel your abdomen rise and fall while you breathe. It should rise up as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out. Now try a deep breath, always keeping the same pattern. Breathe in through your nose for a count of four seconds, hold your breathing for four seconds and exhale through your mouth for a count of four seconds.
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