- Posted by Christine
- On February 20, 2023
What are Breathing Pattern Disorders?
Breathing pattern disorders (BPDs) include a range of abnormal respiratory patterns, such as shallow breathing from our upper chest, or hyperventilation, where we breathe too quickly. Breathing dysfunctions impact our energy levels, mental clarity, chronic pain conditions, and overall wellbeing.
Breathing Well Matters!
Normally we should breathe 10-14 times (cycles) per minute. People who regularly hyperventilate can breathe up to 30 cycles per minute, which requires the breathing muscles to work twice as hard, putting them at risk of repetitive strain. Moreover, the diaphragm (largest breathing muscle) works synergistically with our transverse abdominus (our deepest core muscle) and our pelvic floor. When these components are not working optimally, we create compensations in our muscle use and movement, which eventually leads to pain and dysfunction. For example, if our torso and pelvis are not stabilized by an optimally working diaphragm and transverse abdominus, our extremities will have to work harder than normal which can cause repetitive strain issues elsewhere. Neck pain, headaches, low back pain, or hip pain, are possible consequences of chronic breathing pattern disorders. I use many different tools clinically to assess breathing patterns because it is essential to normal functioning.
How to Test your Breathing Patterns at Home:
Try the Sniff Test: Stand in front of a mirror. Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your lower ribs/upper abdomen. Quickly sniff and see how your hands move. If your breathing pattern is normal, your lower hand should move outward, and your upper hand should have very little movement. Sometimes with dysfunctional breathing the lower hand moves inwards, or the upper hand moves upwards.
Changing Dysfunctional Breathing Patterns:
Many factors can contribute to breathing dysfunction. For example, if your costovertebral articulations (where the ribs meet the spine) are stiff, this will change how your body brings air into the lungs. This type of mechanical problem may not be solved by simply thinking about how you are breathing. You may need manual therapy (e.g. physiotherapy, massage, etc.) to increase movement through the joints to support the new breathing technique. However, you can use breathing retraining exercises and see if that is enough support for you. Sit somewhere quietly (sit up nice and tall) and place a hand on your chest and other hand on your upper abdomen. Think about drawing air inwards as you expand your belly outwards. Let your shoulders relax and try not to breathe through your chest. Practice this for 5 minutes each day. Experiment and try this for a month and re-test your sniff test!