To unravel how breathing more than necessary contributes to fatigue and tightness, we need to consider what happens when we breathe, and the muscles involved.
Air comes into our lungs when the pressure in our lungs is less than in the air around us. The first graphic shows the primary ‘main’ muscles involved in. The big daddy of breathing is the diaphragm, this muscle separates our thoracic cavity, think ‘inside the ribs’, from the abdominal cavity, think ‘belly’. To help us inhale, the diaphragm flattens to increase the space inside the ribs by pushing the abdominal organs down, hence the belly comes out a bit to give us ‘belly breathing’. At the same time the external intercostal muscles contract to expand the ribcage.
Functional breathing relies on contraction of these main breathing muscles for inhalation, and their relaxation at exhalation. That’s all that should be needed as this is the most energy efficient way to breathe.
When we exert ourselves physically, we need more oxygen, so we need to take bigger breaths, and sometimes more.
Now the accessory muscles in the third to fifth picture get involved in both inhalation and exhalation. That can also happen during dysfunctional breathing patterns at rest. Have you ever seen someone’s shoulders rise when they inhale? That’s all those little neck muscles working overtime pulling the ribs up to create more space for the lungs.
Some of the accessory muscles are the big movers of the torso like the ‘lats’ and ‘pecs’, and the stabilising muscles of the ‘core’ but a lot are small neck muscles. Having these muscles contracting thousands of times a day to help with breathing is energy inefficient and not what they were designed for. This causes fatigue and stiffness.
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