Why Can’t I Take A Deep Breathe? | Physical Therapy for everyBODY
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Why Can’t I Take A Deep Breathe?


Have you ever tried to take a really deep breathe and felt like you just couldn’t do it? Or maybe you have tried meditating but can’t find your deep breathe.

Perhaps you have been in a yoga class and frustrated that you can’t seem to find that ocean breathing everyone else can do. Or you may even be a runner and have difficulty pushing your pace because you just can’t seem to catch your breathe.

If any of this sounds like you, then you need to read this. You will learn what is causing your difficulty with breathing, what you can do to improve your ability to take a deep breathe, AND the most commonly related problem you may already be having (that you don’t even know about – yet!).

What Is Causing This Problem?

It’s your diaphragm! Your diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that sits at the floor of your rib cage. When you contract your diaphragm your lungs expand. And, air is pulled into your lungs.

Since the diaphragm is a muscle it can get tight. And, when the diaphragm is tight it has a hard time contracting. If it can’t contract your body has a harder time pulling that air into your lungs.

Which makes it hard to take a deep breathe.

Your diaphragm is the primary muscle of breathing. That means that it is THE muscle responsible for being able to take a deep breathe. If the diaphragm is tight and not able to contract properly then you are not able to get a really deep breathe.

This can make it difficult to perform exercise correctly but it also interferes with daily activities – and may even be causing some other pain.

What Is The Most Commonly Related Problem That I May Be Having?

Neck pain and stiffness. Do you ever feel like your neck is super tight and you just can’t seem to stretch it enough? You may have even started to have stiffness that is affecting your ability to move your neck.

But, how is that related to your breathing?

Your neck is full of muscles that are “accessory” muscles of breathing. Which means that they are meant to “help” the diaphragm when it needs a boost. But, these neck muscles are much smaller than the diaphragm and have to work harder to achieve the same result.

The accessory muscles of respiration are only meant to be used in a “fight or flight” situation. Like, oh- no- I –see- a- bear- and –I- need- to- run- away type of situation. They help to lift up the upper ribs which makes more room for the lungs to expand.

However, if the diaphragm is not working correctly then the neck muscles have to kick in to help. Which overtaxes the neck muscles. So, they get tight and stiff and painful…and then your neck stops moving correctly.

Also, in our society today most of us live in fight or flight mode (me: sheepishly raises hand). Which causes the accessory muscles found in our neck to get overworked and tight.

Difficulty taking a deep breathe and neck stiffness usually go hand in hand. In fact, most of the patients we see here at Physical Therapy for everyBODY who have neck pain end up getting their diaphragm treated. Once we release the diaphragm and restore a correct breathing pattern the neck stiffness decreases.

If you have difficulty taking a deep breathe and also have neck pain/stiffness, we would love to help. We offer a Free Discovery Visit so you can come in and talk with us to find out more about your particular symptoms.

What Can You Do TODAY To Improve Your Breathing?

You need to teach your body how to take a deep breathe. Because, your diaphragm is a muscle and when you don’t use it regularly, it forgets how to work.

Do not fear! You have not “lost” your diaphragm strength. You just need to retrain it.

Here’s how:

  • Lie on your back or in a semi reclined position with your head supported. You need to have your head and neck fully supported so the accessory muscles (those muscles in your neck) can fully relax.
  • Place both hands on your stomach.
  • Breathing in through your nose, try to make your belly rise. Think of your belly like a balloon that you are trying to blow up as big as possible.
  • Slowly exhale through your mouth. Pretend you are trying to slowly blow bubbles out of a bubble wand.
  • If you still feel like you are not breathing as fully as possible, try to make your balloon bigger by pushing your abdominals out (this would be the opposite of sucking your gut in). This should help you get that last bit of air in.
  • Once you’ve got the hang of that, put one hand on your upper chest, near your shoulder. Keep the other hand on your belly. Inhale deeply so that the hand on your belly rises (your balloon gets bigger) but don’t let your hand on your chest move. This ensures that your breathing is coming from your diaphragm and not from those pesky accessory muscles we discussed earlier.
  • Perform 10 deep breaths once per day.

Make sure you schedule time to practice your breathing. You may find it easiest to perform when you are in bed – either before getting up in the morning or right before you fall asleep.

Will This Work If I Have Anxiety?

YES! Deep breathing has been proven to help decrease anxiety. You will have the added benefit of changing your breathing pattern. Deep breathing consistently throughout the day helps to decrease your fight or flight response which also decreases your anxiety.

What Else Can You Do To Help Improve Your Breathing?

  1. 1
    Practice! In today’s world, you may find it difficult to maintain this proper breathing pattern. That is why you need to practice your deep breathing every day so it becomes a habit. Practicing deep breathing every day will actually change your normal breathing pattern.
  2. 2
    Seek help from a Specialist Physical Therapist. If you have tried practicing your deep breathing but just can’t get the hang of it or you continue to have neck pain then we encourage you to reach out for one of our Free Discovery Visits. During this visit, you will be able to meet with one of our Specialists who will listen to your journey. At the end of the visit, we will discuss if you are a good candidate for our Specialist Treatment.
  3. 3
    Keep an eye on this blog. In the next few posts we will be discussing how your diaphragm can be contributing to your pelvic floor dysfunction, heartburn, and digestive issues. As well as the connection between your diaphragm and the vagus nerve.

Dr. Amy Konvalin

Dr. Amy Konvalin

Struggling with pain and dysfunction can impact every part of our lives — it drains our energy, distracts us from our goals, and keeps us from the people and activities we love. As an Orthopedic Clinical Specialist, Dr. Amy Konvalin understands how frustrating those limitations can be — and she knows how to help get you back to the life you want to live! Beginning with a focused evaluation, Dr. Amy works to determine the root causes of your pain, as well as understanding how it affects the way you move through your world. Dysfunctional patterns of movement often grow worse with time and cause further damage if left untreated — so it’s important to address these issues as soon as possible. Dr. Amy knows there is no one-size-fits-all plan for success, and she partners with patients to identify their unique treatment goals and personal values. Using these goals as a guide, Amy uses her doctorate training in manual (hands-on) therapy and exercise prescription to treat patients with a wide variety of medical challenges and histories throughout the Maple Valley, Black Diamond and Covington areas. Dr. Amy is also a wife to a Boeing superstar/former C-130 navigator. While they lived in Germany, Dr. Amy was able to volunteer with the US Army to treat military personnel and civilians on base. She has two beautiful teenage ballerinas who keep her on her toes and educate her on all things ballet! Bailey, the princess pup, is her running partner and her napping partner. In the spare moments in between, Amy enjoys reading, yoga, wine with friends, Pilates, and walking on the beach.
Dr. Amy Konvalin

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