Have you ever noticed that after a having a cold where coughing is present, or an attack of hayfever or asthma, that your neck feels tight and stiff, or you chest and shoulders feel restricted? This is caused by certain muscles constricting and tightening as we are forcing air in and out of our lungs. This can result in headaches, muscle pain or burning, even some restricted movement.
Breathing difficulties can cause a multitude of problems in our bodies. Anything from shortness of breath to a severe asthma attack can result in a lack of oxygen entering the blood stream which can cause muscle tension and fatigue, headaches, dizziness, nausea, exhaustion, and a multitude of other symptoms.
What is affected?
There are a few main muscles that contribute to breathing, such as the diaphragm – a thin, dome shaped muscle the sits just above the abdominal cavity and causes our lungs to expand and contract; the intercostal muscles – which allows our rib cage to expand and contract; as well as the scalenes and the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) – which elevate the first two ribs to allow full lung expansion. These muscles are paramount to our ability to fully expand and contract our chest cavity, enabling full proper lung expansion.
There are several other muscles attributed to breathing, such as the serratus anterior, our pectoral muscles, even the quadratus lumborum (which is a lower back muscle). However these muscles have little, if any, adverse effect on the chests ability to expand or contract.
How can massage help?
Massage encourages blood flow to the muscles, bringing much needed oxygen, and helps to break down lactic acid buildup. This allows the muscles to relax and blood to flow more freely, as well as allowing a fuller range of movement and thus taking pressure and tightness off of our structure, both bones and joints.
Working on the muscles associated with breathing will allow the full and proper range of movement of the ribs and chest cavity and thus allow us to breathe more freely. Working directly on the diaphragm and intercostals can make large improvements in patients with breathing difficulties. As well as the benefit of allowing more movement in these muscles, strain to the muscles of the neck, shoulders and upper back is released.