What does a triathlete whom trains daily and a 12 hour-a-day office worker have in common? Both can have stress, both can feel pain and both need to breathe! On average we breathe up to 30,000 times each day, when you think about it that way, it’s probably something we should concentrate on doing well, and maybe breathing right may just kick-start you to recover faster and performing better.

In this short blog, we want to introduce to you a very common problem we see in patients which unfortunately is often overlooked, left untreated it could contribute to longer recovery times, on-going pain and even reoccurrence of injuries. If I said you could help prevent these by simply learning to relax your breathing when pain presents, surely it’s worth doing.

Pain is an alarm to undue stress on our body, wether it be a physical stress (e.g. rolling your ankle going down a step or sitting poorly for several hours) or a mental stress (e.g. anxiety about a test coming up or depression over a relationship problem) pain can have many negative effects on our body that I’m sure a lot of you didn’t even realise.

Better known as the ‘Fight or Flight’ response, pain stimulates our sympathetic nervous system and as you can see in the diagram Below this creates a barrage of effects on our body that in the short-term may just save your life, but if stimulated long-term can have very negative effects on your health.

Take notice that one response is that our breathing rate is increased and this is something we see often in patients presenting to us with pain, actually there is some research to show that around 10% of us chronically breathe too much (hyperventilate) even when not in pain. Luckily for us, breathing is one thing we can take control over in our body, and learning to breathe correctly we believe can help push our body back towards the parasympathetic side, also known as ‘Rest & Digest’.

Getting back into a state of rest is of up-most importance as soon as possible after an injury occurs. The immediate threat of the injury or situation has gone, and we want to get the healing process started, but a body in ‘Fight or Flight’ isn’t going to be able to do this, getting yourself in a relaxed state will guarantee that you get the best out of any other treatments or modalities you use and heal faster.

So I want to show you the first thing we will do with any patient that comes to see us if they come across as anxious, stressed, worried or in any form of respiratory distress (because of pain or any other reason in their lives!). This is quiet nasal breathing, probably the most relaxed form of breathing possible for our bodies, creating the perfect environment for ‘Rest & Digest’ to take over and getting us on the fast track to recovery.

Test yourself now, set a timer for one minute and take notice of how you’re breathing and count the number of breathes you take, if you find you’re breathing with your mouth open, with more than 10 breathes in the minute, you could benefit from this exercise. This simple exercise can be performed in any position (laying, sitting, standing) and at any time throughout the day. At periods of high stress or pain, the more the better!

Gently seal your lips whilst keeping your teeth slightly apart, press your tongue lightly in to the roof of your mouth just behind the teeth. We simply then breathe only through our nose. To begin with concentrate on your exhalation, slowing the exhale down for 5-6 seconds and when you have finished your exhale try to pause for a further 1-2 seconds before taking your next inhalation. You should feel that your ribcage moves down at the end of your exhale and your abdominal muscles naturally engage. Again, on inhaling slow the air as it comes in to your nose, aim to inhale for 2-3 seconds and avoid temptation to take an fast deep breath.

This will feel difficult to begin with so start by just completing one minute at a time, but your body will adapt quickly and you will hopefully soon find yourself breathing this way throughout the day!

We believe that breathing right is the first thing that all our patients need to be doing well and this is the perfect exercise to get things started, it doesn’t matter if you have just woke up to a painful neck, been suffering from low back pain for several years, or keep getting little niggles after heavy periods of training…if you don’t breathe well 30,000 times a day, no exercise doing 3 sets of 10 reps you’re prescribed is going to get you better…that’s just simple maths!

– Glenn Fayers, Asia Physio