I often see patients with neck pain and/or nerve symptoms in the arm. This type of patient complains of neck tension and reports that massage helps improve symptoms for a short period of time.

There is a strong correlation between how this patient is breathing and their neck pain.

Breathing is accomplished by expanding and contracting the space in the lungs. When the lungs expand, the pressure inside the lung is less than the pressure in the surrounding air, which causes the air to rush down the throat into the lungs (inhaling). Exhaling, or breathing out, occurs when the pressure in the lungs is greater than the pressure exerted on the outside of the body, causing air to leave the lungs.

breathing-diagram

Air enters the lungs through simple physics. Increasing the volume in the chest cavity makes pressure drop in the lungs; air will then rush in to fill the space. This requires that we somehow increase the volume or space in our chest cavity. The naturally designed way to do this is by recruiting the diaphragm. When the diaphragm (a giant, sheet-like muscle that your heart and lungs sit on) contracts, it pushes down into the abdomen. This increases the volume of the chest cavity, and you breathe in.  When you don’t use the diaphragm or suppress its contraction, you force yourself to use the muscles in your neck to lift the rib cage–against gravity–to increase the volume in your chest instead.

Imagine using the muscles in your neck all day, every day for breathing. This would cause muscle tone and begin to pinch the delicate nerves that leave the neck and travel down the arm.

Stomach breathing is not just for yogis and singers. Using your diaphragm will give your neck muscles the much needed break they deserve. So remember to “breathe into your tummy,” and let your diaphragm contract and push your stomach out.

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