Breathing Exercises – Using Deep Breathing Can Decrease Stress, Help Lower Blood Pressure As Well As Reduce Neck & Back Pain

Exercises involving deep breathing are easily performed while standing, sitting or lying flat on a comfortable surface. Lack of correct breathing mechanics can lead to neck pain by placing abnormal loading on front neck muscles. These muscles are the “Scalenes” muscles and even though these muscles become problematic, the pain can radiate or travel into the shoulders, arms and, as illustrated below, into the hands into the hands. If you breathe only with the upper body, your blood pressure may increase, leading to decreased amounts of air to fill the lungs. This upper body breathing (through the chest only) forces the scalene muscles in the neck to contract to assist in lifting the chest. The scalene muscles are not intended to perform this function and this overloading of the scalenes may lead to chronic neck pain as they become stiff and fatigued from overworking.

breathing muscles
deep breathing muscles

The neck muscles used with improper breathing function connect the neck with the top of the ribcage. Looking at the diagram, the black X’s are areas where the damage or strain is located the muscle. The colored areas indicate where painful radiating and numbness/tingling may occur; the more solid the colored pattern is, the more pain or numbness/tingling may result.

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As the breathing exercises detail, proper breathing technique features an expansion of the stomach area, which can be seen as the stomach area rises. This is diaphragmatic breathing bringing air to the bottom portion of the chest which increases oxygenation, lowering blood pressure and relaxing muscles. Observing a newborn or small children, this is proper breathing. This type of breathing permits the highest volume of air intake, which can ultimately reduce stress and increase relaxation throughout the body.

Practicing over the years, these poor breathing techniques are seen frequently – in almost every patient! Not only from my experience in anatomy and physiology, but also from years of Martial Arts study, I made it essential to instruct these breathing exercises which, in addition to reducing neck muscle strain, can increase oxygen throughout your body, reducing whole body stress. The results can be dramatic. This method of deep breathing was natural at first, but as we age and stress accumulates we abandon this correct form of breathing and practicing the breathing exercises is a great way to return to this beneficial method of increasing oxygen, energy and decreasing neck pain.

You may feel somewhat awkward to begin with as coordination must be re-established, using all the involved and correct muscles for breathing, however, practicing breathing exercises will engrain this into “muscle memory”, thus becoming second nature. The benefit of the breathing exercises will be apparent during periods of anxiety and stressful situation, when you feel your neck muscles tighten and heart rate increase. Begin to use the technique learned with the breathing exercises and you will notice a reduction of these mental and physical difficulties.

Breathing Exercises Detailed

Getting started with the breathing exercises, lie down facing up making sure your neck is properly supported with a pillow or neck roll which places the neck in a posture that helps to open the airways.

The illustration here indicates the incorrect method to notice in performing breathing exercises. The middle shows proper exhalation, while and the right illustration indicated proper inhalation.

breathing exercises
deep breathing
how to do breathing exercises

Breathe through your mouth with one hand placed on the abdomen and the other on your chest and notice the movement. Typically when taking a deep breath, the improper method is observed where either the chest only is used or the abdomen pushes in while the chest pushes out.

To learn abdominal breathing in the breathing exercises, place the hands as described and exhale fully. Keep your chest in and relaxed. Start by contracting the abdominal muscles and the diaphragm. Then, without expanding the upper chest, inhale and allow your abdomen to expand out. Go for a smooth even rhythm. Once you are good at abdominal breathing you can begin to coordinate the movement of the abdomen with the chest. A good method is to take air in for the count of 4, then pause for a count of 4, then exhale for a count of 4. Try to remain aware of your breathing throughout the day. Placing the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth right behind the front teeth and breathing around your tongue will aid in relaxation and moisten your mouth.

Another useful exercise is to imagine the air coming in going down in front to your abdomen then on exhale imagine the air going back and up the spine to the head and out. At the point when you pause or hold the breath, focus on the area your having trouble with such as the neck, shoulders, head etc…

You can provide needed relief for already overworked muscles in the neck by avoiding lifting unbalanced things requiring using your arms to be held far away from your body, or having to exert sudden force. If you have to strain during everyday tasks, remember to think about the breathing exercises and reducing the tension of the neck muscles as you lift or shrug your shoulders and let the head be placed in a forward posture. As you learn the new breathing exercises, you can also find use of a exerciser specifically designed for the neck to assist normalization and proper balance of the neck muscles. When straining during any activity try to keep breathing. When turning in bed roll the head instead of lifting it off the pillow. Always observe correct neck posture and use a good neck pillow to promote an open airway and correct alignment of neck curve.

Just as improper breathing techniques may cause neck problems, which the exercises help to correct, neck pain itself may cause breathing problems. In chronic neck pain, loss of contraction ability of the deeper neck muscles along with increased activity and overworking of the outer neck muscles, limited motion ranges and disturbance of control related to the nerves and muscles, including mental stress provides a link between neck pain and breathing problems.

Practice breathing exercises in this new and correct manner whenever possible. Try and make it “muscle memory”. The breathing exercises can be a great tool in relaxation and coping with neck pain.

Breathing Exercises – Neck & Back Pain, What Does Scientific Research Indicate?

Neck Pain

In a July, 2009 edition of the Journal Cephalalgia, the authors did a pilot study on dysfunction of breathing in chronic neck pain patients. The results indicated that chronic neck patients have decreased breathing capacity as well as poor breathing muscle strength. They also found a significant association between an forward head posture and low breathing muscle strength in neck pain patients. They consider the relationship between breathing and neck pain to be an important factor in the assessment of neck pain patients, as well as in rehabilitation and medication use.

In a June, 2013 edition of the Manual Therapy Journal, a study was performed to assess breathing weakness in association with chronic neck pain. The authors noted that individuals suffering chronic neck pain have weak respiratory muscles. They advise professionals treating chronic neck pain patients to consider breathing assessment and also treatment when necessary.

An April, 2014 study in the journal of Manual Therapy again focused on dysfunctional breathing and chronic neck pain. In this study, the authors suggested that patients with chronic neck pain need to strengthen neck muscles and may benefit from breathing exercises.

Back Pain

A July, 2009 edition of the European Spine Journal noted altered breathing patterns in chronic low back pain patients. The results of the study indicated over half of the chronic low back pain patients exhibited altered breathing patterns when required to do movements where trunk stability muscles are used. They suggested clinicians should evaluate breathing patterns in low back pain patients. The authors also suggest that breathing related disc pressure changes may have a function in proper disc nutrition.

In a June, 2013 edition of the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, they studied deep breathing exercises and found they had a positive effect on improving breathing as well as enhancing low back stabilization. They used a method of deep breathing exercises consisting of holding in the breath for 10 seconds at the end of inhaling. They did 5 sets of 10 repetitions of deep breathing using this technique to achieve the results. They were given a one minute break after each set, and did the training one time per day, 3 times per week, for 4 weeks. The authors indicated the diaphragm is an important part of core stability during breathing in, reducing low back spinal stress through a combination of muscular actions, along with intra-abdominal pressure.

Low back instability is a cause of back pain. Stability of the back is important to prevent and treat low back injuries. This method of deep breathing may be used to reduce back pain and improve respiration as well as trunk stability when performing back stabilization exercises.

In a May, 2014 edition of the Journal of Back & Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation, the authors studies the effect of expiration on back a stabilization exercise, noting that exhaling maximally, holding the breath after maximum expiration, produced significant increases in core muscle function.

In the May, 2014 edition of the journal Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, a study indicated a relationship between inhaling and back pain, noting that individuals with back pain show greater fatigue of the diaphragm. After an 8 week breathing exercise training program, improvements were noted in low back pain, postural control and breathing, suggesting a role for breathing exercises in rehabilitation.


breathing deeply for exercising graphic reference