We ALL know that the way we lift is paramount to lower back health, but we are hardly ever told how to BREATHE whilst we lift.
The instinctive thing to do as you lift a heavy load is to hold your breath. As we do this we increase the intra-abdominal pressure, and it FEELS like we have stabilised ourselves and can lift more weight safely. However, there is no correlation between the force we can generate and the holding of our breath. If we slowly exhale as we lift we are still able to lift the same weight without introducing strain patterns through our diaphragm. There is also a decrease in arterial blood pressure which in turn decreases the chances of a stroke dramatically.
What is a diaphragmatic strain pattern? Why is it important? The diaphragm is a large circular muscle with a circular tendon in the middle (not unlike the top of a traditional circus tent) that sits across the middle of your rib cage between the lungs and the stomach. It attaches to the inside wall of the last six ribs and, when you exhale, it rises up in your chest emptying out your lungs. It is easy to understand how a controlled exhalation keeps your intra-abdominal pressure much lower whilst you lift than if you held your breath and kept your diaphragm still.
When we hold our breath and lift, our diaphragm holds its position and shape against an increasing pressure in our abdomen, which can be hard work! If the diaphragm spasms it can change the position of the ribs it attaches to, twisting the rib cage which (via muscles that run from the ribs to the pelvis) can twist the pelvis and actually CAUSE lower back pain. Because it sits just above the stomach and the oesophagus passes through it reflux, heart burn or indigestion issues may be also caused.
The diaphragm is a particularly difficult muscle to stretch. It works with every single breath and is fundamental in returning blood from the lower part of our body back to the heart. It is important to look after our diaphragms but if you do manage to strain it don’t worry osteopaths are particularly good at treating them!