According to the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University, back pain is one of the most frequent complaints Americans make to their doctors. Around 65 million Americans report a recent episode of back pain, and around 8% of the adult population of the US suffers from chronic back pain.
So if you sometimes or often suffer from back pain, you are far from alone. Fortunately, there are numerous ways you can help yourself and reduce or eliminate your pain. One of the simplest and most effective tools available to you? Your breath.
The muscles that help you breathe are connected to the vertebra between your ribcage and pelvis. These muscles can hold a lot of tension, impacting your spinal alignment and contributing to back pain. Controlled breathing exercises can help to ease this tension.
Here are five ways to incorporate breathing techniques into your treatment plan for your back pain.
Check Your Breathing Technique
Before we explore some specific breathing exercises you can do, it’s important to check your ordinary breathing technique. It is possible to breathe incorrectly and doing so can contribute to your pain.
Place one hand on your belly and another on your chest and breath normally. Steadily deepen your breaths and pay attention to how your hands are moving. If you are breathing correctly, the hand on your belly should rise more than the one on your chest. If not, take a look at the next section to learn how to breathe from your diaphragm.
Repeat this throughout the day. It is particularly important to practice proper breathing during times of anxiety or stress, as this is when you are at the highest risk of muscle tension leading to back pain.
Breathing from the Diaphragm
Your diaphragm is located below your lungs and is a major part of your respiratory system. Breathing from the diaphragm allows you to breathe deeply and avoids the kind of shallow breathing that can contribute to back pain.
Lie on your back and place one hand on your chest and the other just below your ribcage. Breathe in through your nose and let the air travel down into your belly. Purse your lips and breathe out through them. Try to keep the hand on your chest as still as possible.
Repeat this 8-10 times. As you go about your day, check in periodically with your breath to ensure you are breathing from your diaphragm.
This exercise can help to reduce tension, lengthen your spine, and open up the muscles of your back.
Sit comfortably and take some deep breaths, paying attention to how they feel. On your next breath in, imagine the air going down and backwards towards your tailbone and up the back of your ribcage.
As you breathe out, pull your lower belly in towards the bottom of your ribs. Allow your shoulder blades to drop and lengthen your upper back.
Repeat this cycle 8-10 times and for best results, do it several times throughout the day.
Practice Yoga or Pilates
Exercises such as yoga and pilates marry breath with movement to create a conscious, healing, whole-body practice.
Yoga poses can relax your muscles and strengthen your body while teaching you the kind of mindful breathing techniques that will help to eliminate your back pain. Movements such as cat-cow, downward facing dog, and sphinx pose can all do wonders for your back when accompanied by the proper breath techniques.
You can practice yoga or pilates at home by following one of the many free tutorials available online, or join a local class. Speak to your instructor beforehand and let them know about your back pain, and don’t be afraid to modify poses as necessary. You might also want to consider wearing a back brace or body sleeve while you exercise.
Build a Strong Core
Strengthening your core is one of the best defenses you have against back pain. Our core muscles play a part in every single movement we make throughout the day and keeping them healthy is essential for a healthy, pain-free back.
There are many different exercises you can do to strengthen your core. Some of the best include:
- Bicycle crunches
- Mountain climbers
Healthline offers instructions on how to perform each of these moves and more. You can also work with a personal trainer to develop a core strengthening plan that works for you. Remember to breathe consciously through each exercise.
What If You Still Have Back Pain?
Back pain can be debilitating and have a real impact on your quality of life. If you have tried several interventions and nothing has helped, see your doctor or a physiotherapist. No-one should have to suffer from chronic pain and help is out there.