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  • Writer's pictureDr. Michael Rosson D.C

Improper Breathing Causing Your Neck Pain ?

Updated: Feb 17, 2020

Like many of us suffering from chronic neck and shoulder pain, we may be searching for the answer as to why it’s there in the first place. There are many reasons why neck pain has become a normal part of our daily lives. More times than not, the blame is shifted towards poor posture and the dreaded “desk job” that many of us are so familiar with. While chronic poor postures and bad ergonomics are definitely parts of the puzzle, one factor that is not commonly discussed or assessed, is breathing.

Let’s start with a self breathing test. Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach. Now take a couple deep breaths. For many of you, you probably noticed that when you took a breath in, your chest and shoulders elevate. For the few of you that felt your stomach rise and fall with each breathe, congratulations, you are breathing correctly. When we use our chest to breathe in and out, we are repeatedly using the secondary muscles of respiration. More specifically, we use the anterior neck muscles such as the scalene and sternocleidomastoid muscles. Overuse or repetition of these muscles can cause increased tightness and eventually neck pain.

When using the correct breathing mechanics or “diaphragmatic breathing”, we primarily use the diaphragm and intercostal (little muscles between the ribs) muscles to breathe. The diaphragm is a flat muscle that attaches to the bottom of our rib cage separating our chest cavity and abdominal cavity. As we inhale the diaphragm moves downward increasing the space in the chest cavity allowing air to flow into the lungs. As this happens, your stomach should start to protrude outward. Now, notice how your neck muscles are no longer being used to breathe!

If you have been receiving treatment for neck and shoulder pain and have not seen any improvement, this may be one of the underlying factors.

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