Do you suffer with regular constipation or diarrhea that leaves you feeling like…well, bad? Have you been to see every doctor only to be told to take medication for the rest of your life? Are you looking for a natural way to solve this problem – for good?
You may be thinking to yourself “Dr. Amy, You are a Physical Therapist. You don’t deal with digestive issues”. The truth is – It’s All Connected. How you breathe affects everything from your low back pain TO how well your poop moves through your body (and out!).
More truth – how your breathing affects your entire health and well being. In previous articles we have discussed how breathing can decrease neck pain and stimulate the vagus nerve which helps you to chill out. Today we are discussing how your breathing can affect your gut health – and how well you poop!
Did you know that breathing is the only function in our body that can happen automatically without you thinking about it and can also happen consciously?
Breathing is the only function that falls into both of these categories. And, when you focus on your breathing it can have an impact on the rest of your systems. This includes your fight or flight system, your digestive system, your lymphatic system, TMJ dysfunction, back pain, and your pelvic floor function.
How does breathing affect the digestive system?
The diaphragm is a huge dome shaped muscle that attaches to the lower ribs. It forms the floor of the rib cage. Which means it is a huge and powerful muscle that is meant to help you take deep breathes all the time. The shallow breathing pattern we usually use in our current lifestyle is not how our bodies were designed. You were created to use the diaphragm to take full breathes all the time.
There is tube that connects from your mouth to your stomach that goes right through the middle of the diaphragm. It’s called your esophagus. When your diaphragm is tense you may experience increased difficulty moving solids and fluids through the esophagus. You may also notice that you suffer with acid reflux due to tension in the diaphragm.
When you are breathing correctly the diaphragm helps to gently activate the digestive track which lies underneath. This is really important for your gut health. The movement of the diaphragm is how fluids and solids move through the gut. If your diaphragm is tight you may experience gut related symptoms including constipation, bloating, or diarrhea.
You may even notice that your cramps are worse when you have your period. This is because the diaphragm works in opposition to the pelvic floor. Well, it’s supposed to. Think about it. When you have to poop, you tighten the diaphragm and relax the pelvic floor to let it out. This means that if you have diaphragm tension then you might also have unusual tone in your pelvic floor.
Is there any proof that this is true?
YES! Researchers have found that the diaphragm is the only muscle that YOU can actually control that affects the small and large bowel. You have other muscles and organs that can affect the intestines but the diaphragm is the only one that you have any active control over.
In this study, researchers found that patients who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) often have a lack of motor coordination between the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles that make up the abdominal wall. Common IBS comorbidities include chronic low back pain, chronic pelvic pain, chronic headache, inflammation, depression, anxiety, gastroesophageal reflux and TMJ dysfunction.
What? IBS can lead to TMJ dysfunction?
YES! Because it’s all connected (as we are so fond of saying). The diaphragm has a direct connection with the tongue. And, any upper airway abnormalities can change how the TMJ functions. Any change in how the TMJ functions can lead to TMJ DYSfunction.
Also, you may have seen our previous post (add link here) about how the neck muscles act as the accessory muscles of respiration. If you are not properly using your diaphragm you will overuse the neck muscles causing neck pain and dysfunction. If your neck is tight then it is not in the correct position which may lead to an incorrect position of the TMJ.
Why is anxiety linked to IBS?
I believe there are two paths that link IBS and anxiety. One is the psychological path and the other is the physical path. Although the psoychological path is beyond the scope of my training, I feel it’s safe to assume That chronic pain in your gut will cause anxiety.
The physical path is through the vagus nerve. As we discussed in this blog post (add link here) the vagus nerve runs through the diaphragm. The vagus nerve is the one responsible for telling all of your organs to chill out. It’s the nerve responsible for getting you OUT of a fight or flight response. And, let’s face it friends, in today’s world most of us live in a fight or flight response.
Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve which tells your body to relax. This will help to decrease anxiety as well as inflammation.
Which takes us right back to the gut of the matter. You see, increased inflammation occurs in your gut, too. When you have increased inflammation in your gut then you also have decreased mobility through the intestines. This will most commonly lead to constipation although it can also lead to diarrhea.
Which takes us right back to where this all started. If you are struggling to poop properly then you may be suffering from a tight diaphragm. Especially if you have seen “every doctor” who tells you it’s all in your head or that you just need to take medication every day.
I am here to tell you that it’s not all in your head, it’s probably in your diaphragm. And, there is something you can do to change your symptoms right now. In this blog post (post link here) we explain how to perform deep breathing properly to get that diaphragm moving correctly.
You can also check out our YouTube page for a video on how to perform deep breathing to activate your diaphragm and decrease your symptoms.
What can you do if deep breathing alone is not working for you?
If you find that you have difficulty with deep breathing or it’s not resolving your symptoms, you need to seek help from a Specialist who can help get your diaphragm moving correctly. There are actually hands on techniques that can be done to release the diaphragm. These techniques are gentle and pain free. If you would like to learn more about how we here at Physical Therapy for everyBODY can help you breathe better, poop better, and feel better, then we encourage you to sign up for a Free Discovery Visit. This visit is designed so we can hear your story and decide if you are a good fit for what we offer.
You deserve to live a life where you can poop, where you feel good, and where you can move pain free!