Are Your Poor Breathing Habits Affecting Your Spondy? (Video)

Proper Breathing And Spondylolisthesis

One of the most basic, primal and often overlooked functions of the human body is breathing. Breathing is something we do around 20,000 times a day without even thinking about it.

Now, what if I told you all of those times you take a breathe and exhale you are doing so incorrectly and it could affect your spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis in a negative way?

Would this make you think a little more about the importance of proper breathing?

A very hot topic in the field of physical therapy and strength and conditioning is proper breathing.  Doctors, therapist, strength coaches and others have been looking closer at breathing and the affects of improper breathing on the body.

Some interesting findings associated with improper breathing are being discussed and some of these findings point to improper breathing leading to an increase in overall stress and poor posture.  In some cases this poor posture could lead to back pain.

Without boring you with all of the science and anatomy, I want to stress a few of the important points I have learned about proper breathing so you can understand why proper breathing could help to reduce some of your spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis back pain.

human respiratory system vector

First, let’s look at an abbreviated version of what really happens when you breathe……..

When You Inhale

When a breath is taken (inhalation) the diaphragm tightens and moves downward. This in combination with the expansion of your ribcage allows for more room in your chest cavity for your lungs to expand and bring in all that great fresh air.

Small muscles called intercostals located in-between your ribs also work to help create more room for your lungs to expand in your chest cavity.

When You Exhale

When you breathe out or exhale your diaphragm does just the opposite. It relaxes and moves upward. The intercostal muscles we mentioned also relax and the opposite effect takes place.

The relaxation causes a reduction in space in the chest cavity and the carbon dioxide is forced out of the lungs through your nose and mouth.

So What’s The Big Deal?

People can run into problems during the inhale, exhale or both.

Like I mentioned before, with a proper inhale you expand your ribcage to take a breath and your belly expands. But people who struggle with this (myself included) inhale by lifting the ribcage and expanding the chest. This can create hyperextension in the low back and overtime lead to restricted motion in various important areas of the upper back.

Try this simple test out….

1. Sit up straight and DO NOT think about the right way to breath, just take a real big breath in naturally.

2. Pay attention to your chest, shoulders and head. Does your head and shoulders rise up while your chest expands out? Or does your ribcage and belly expand out with your upper body remaining relatively quiet?

If your head and shouders rise up while the muscles around your neck and upper body are working, this could be affecting your spondy.

Problems can also arise during the exhalation process and it is my guess that in the spondy population the following is quite common.

I know from experience when I used to have my painful spondy episodes the pain would be so bad it literally took my breath away. My breathing would be affected due to all of the muscles and tissues tightening up to combat the pain in my low back.

I was almost always in a constant tightness.

spondylolisthesis back pain

Why was this a problem?

Think about the exhalation process.

What is SUPPOSED to happen is the relaxation of the diaphragm and intercostals muscles which allows for the reduction of space in the chest cavity. But if you are not exhaling properly or fully you do not allow for the FULL relaxation of the diaphragm and intercostals muscles.

It just so happens the intercostals muscles located between your ribs play a huge role in your posture.

Those intercostals are connected to your ribs which play a huge role in the function and mobility of the thoracic spine. Having proper function and mobility in the thoracic spine can play a HUGE role in the health of your low, mid, and upper back.

Long story short, if the full exhalation does not take place the constant expansion of the rib cage can force your chest to stick out.  If you chest stays expanded it could lead to excessive hyperextension and additional stress on your spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis.

A perfect example of this is blowing out numerous candles, bubbles or dandelions. If you pretend you are doing so you will notice how your ribcage sinks and you almost round over, which is just the opposite of an expanded chest and hyperextended lower back.

People who suffer from these improper breathing habits are basically walking around with an expanded chest and extra stress on the back.

For example. Stand up and stick your chest out as far as your can. As you do so pay attention how you round your low back to allow for the expansion of the chest. Without proper exhalation this posture (although not as severe as the example) carries on all day.

What Can Be Done?

Start by working on your exhalation process as this may be one of the most common areas of improper breathing. Most importantly work on exhaling FULLY, especially if you are currently experiencing pain from your spondylolisthesis.

Exhaling fully will encourage the full relaxation of your diaphragm and intercostals muscles and will help to promote the proper cycle of breathing.

This will also help to reduce stress and strain on the muscles and tissues that play an important role in back health.

The important thing to understand is that breathing improperly can lead to compensations from other areas (specifically the muscles of the hips and low back) to assist with each breath. These are areas that are often overworked in spondylolisthesis patients to begin with and are often contributors to pain.

Forcing these muscles to do additional work may lead to compensations and muscle imbalances throughout your body causing even more back pain.

Check out the video below for a few tips on how you can start improving your breathing today!


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Leave A Reply (8 comments so far)

  1. Kristin
    3 years ago

    This was really good info. Thanks!

    • SpondyInfo
      3 years ago

      No problem Kristin! I am glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Janna Forst
    2 years ago

    Thank you so much for all the information! You have always been spot on regarding spondy issues and have been a great help. Keep it coming! Janna
    Going to concentrate on the breathing this week and see if it makes a difference. All I want is to be able to run again…but so scared to start back up after being diagnosed as a spondy. But happy to still be active in many ways.

    • SpondyInfo
      2 years ago

      No problem Janna. Let me know how the breathing goes. I understand your fear of getting back to running and I encourage you to take your time, be smart and keep staying active! I got back to sprinting recently and I did so by continually improve my movement and weaknesses and listening to my body.

  3. Dianne
    2 years ago

    I was re taught how to breathe by my NLP Therapist, imagine gills out of your back and this had the same effect. I also was tensing up and not breathing at all in times of stress!! I have found since breathing better this actually gives my spine mini stretches and this has improved the dreadful spasms in my back which occurred numerous times during the day and night but I now have almost nil. So re train yourself, slow your breathing down too, no little shallow breathes. I find your info helpful. Thank you.

    • SpondyInfo
      2 years ago

      Thanks for sharing Dianne! It really is amazing how much of an effect something such as improper breathing can have on your entire body! I am glad you were able to locate and improve upon this issue.

  4. Karla Jones
    3 weeks ago

    Thanks so much for this. It makes so much sense for me! I have grade 1 Spondylolisthesis L4L5
    And I’m currently having a flare up with muscle spasms. The pain has been controlled through meditation and my Pilates training. But, I went back to school online this year and I’ve had to sit so much plus with the stress of it. My Spondy is making itself known big time! But, what you’re saying here makes so much sense! I definitely do the incomplete breathing thing. I see that’s one reason why Pilates works so well because of the big thorough exhalations !
    After trying what you suggested in the video, I already feel better! Wow
    Thanks so much, take care

    • SpondyInfo
      2 weeks ago

      Thanks for sharing Karla! I am glad the site has helped and hope it continues to do so!

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