One of the main principles of Osteopathy is that form governs function and vice versa.
In practice I would estimate at least half of patients have some form of a breathing dysfunction, either exacerbating their current complaint or at the root of their present condition.
Go to a mirror and take a deep breath in.
Do your shoulders take a hike towards your ears?
This is a breathing dysfunction. There are no respiratory muscles that attach from your shoulders to you head – so why do we use our shoulders to breath?
In times of physical exertion, stress or respiratory pathology such as asthma there is accessory musculature that will aid the body in obtaining a greater lung capacity. Muscles such as the scalenes that attach from the first rib (behind your clavicle) to your neck and the pectorals (from shoulders to our ribs) can be utilized if we need to take a bigger breath or under greater strain. Often however, people recruit the wrong muscles to do an activity such as breathing in everyday life, with every breath. Breathing should be an involuntary movement but often too many muscles are recruited to do a job that they are not formally used for or designed to do. This can cause them to become overworked and tired. Frequently this leads to stiffness and pain in other areas such as the neck and back.
What do we mean by form and function? It means that a part of your body is specifically designed in order for to carry out a particular function. It happens this way so that the organism can easily complete a task.
For example, taking a deep breath may be difficult if the ribs, diaphragm, or parts of the spine do not move well. When breathing is hindered, drainage (necessary for clearing congestion and inflammation) will be adversely affected. When you are no longer able to take a deep breath, you become less able to cough up the inflammation to clear it. Inflammation and phlegm stays in the lung and this may lead to the development and persistence of respiratory infections. Not to mention breathing just becomes tiring. How can we expend more energy to heal when we are using so much to just breath?
In asthmatics or suffers of other respiratory disease such as chronic bronchitis, the body adapts. Wide barreled chests, chronically contracted respiratory muscles are the result of the body working hard, trying to keep adequate ventilation. This however, can also lead to the ribs not moving as well as chronically tightened muscles hold them, and a cycle of struggling to breath continues.
Why are you raising your shoulders to breath? Your body has adapted to using the wrong muscles and a breathing pattern has begun that is not as efficient or effective as it could be or is designed to do. Furthermore using these muscles leads to other regions such as into your neck and jaw, even your lower back being tight. This is turn can cause headaches, stiff necks, and injured backs.
How can osteopathy help? Osteopathy uses hands on techniques to address the mobility and so function of the body. Mobilizing the ribs and respiratory muscles allows the ribs to move more and you to breath deeper. The body no longer has to adapt, recruiting other muscles causing them to work too hard, causing more pain and dysfunction. The muscles from your shoulder to your neck can relax, and breathing returns to a place of ease.
By Julie Sainsbury BOst (UK)
Osteopathic Manual Practitioner