You had a long stressful day and you let out a sigh, a reflexive deep breath, almost gulping in some air. Take a listen what your body is telling you, to take a deep breath. Because of prolonged sitting, hunched over postures, and increasing levels of obesity, we are not breathing as well as we should be. Whether it is a big gut obstructing depression of the diaphragm that allows air to flow in, a tight rib cage due to a tight upper back that hunches us over or tight muscles between our ribs, it is getting harder and harder to take a nice deep breath that fills our lungs with air.
But don't despair. Just as with any part of our bodies, this is something we can train. The diaphragm and the intercostal muscles are both just that, muscles. We can stretch the inner intercoastal muscles, mobilize our upper backs (thoracic spine) and strengthen the expiration muscles so we don't find ourselves gasping for air throughout the day.
Don't Get it, Try this:
Take a very deep breath, letting both our abdominals (diaphragmatic breathing)and rib cage expand (not elevate). Feel tightness or restricted in how deep of a breath you can get? Now use a foam roller or lacrosse ball to loosen your upper back. Now try taking that deep breath again. Any difference? if so, a tight upper back can be your problem. Continue to mobilize your upper back while practicing your combination or rib cage expansion and diaphragmatic breathing to strengthen your inspiratory muscles. Don't sigh or fret, just take a breath.
Dr. Joshua Mazalian, DPT, OCS, CSCS is the owner of JAM Sports and Spine in Los Angeles and specializes in sports and orthopedic physical therapy. You can reach him on Twitter @jamsportsPT and Facebook as well as email at firstname.lastname@example.org