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Can bad posture affect your breathing?

Sitting relaxed

Many of us don’t even think about our posture until we find ourselves in a situation where it’s either difficult to maintain or impacts our wellbeing.

Maybe you are standing for hours on end or sitting at your desk all day long. Either way, your posture can cause many problems over time. The only way to combat these issues is by practicing good posture habits!

Different posture patterns such as forward head posture (FHP) and kyphosis have been shown to change breathing mechanisms, including diaphragm mobility.

In addition, today’s technology-based devices like handheld phones and tablets are frequently used in poor standing positions. This may lead to musculoskeletal issues of the shoulders, neck, and ribs, which can influence your breathing pattern, which can lead to breathing problems.

Many of us do not think about our posture until we find ourselves in a situation where it is difficult to maintain. Maybe you are standing for hours on end or sitting at your desk all day long. 

Either way, your posture can cause many problems over time. The only way to combat these issues is by practising good posture habits!

What do we mean by POSTURE?

The term “posture” refers not only to our upright posture but also to our overall alignment from head to toe and the positioning of various body components relative to one another. 

Posture is a term used to describe how you hold your body upright against gravity when standing or sitting. Posture also includes the position and condition of our internal organs, which can affect posture if they are compromised by illness or injury. In addition, your posture can affect how well you breathe, digest food and expel waste.

What is shallow breathing?

Shallow breathing describes any type of abnormal breathing which usually occurs because of chronic lung infection or injury sustained to the respiratory system.

Shallow or depressed breathing is a type of breathing disorder. It often causes shortness of breath, an inability to get enough oxygen and may significantly diminish your body’s capacity for physical activity due to increased carbon dioxide levels.

Shallow breathing describes any type of abnormal breathing which usually occurs because of chronic lung infection or injury sustained to the respiratory system.

Typically shallow breathers experience:

  • greater difficulty with their posture,
  • more difficulties trying to do exercise routines, or,
  • more rapid fatigue while concentrating on tasks.

How can shallow breathing affect your posture?

Poor posture and shallow breathing often go hand-in-hand, as posture issues can restrict lung expansion. Shallow breathing is the opposite of deep belly (abdomen) breathing. In addition, people with poor posture (rounded shoulders, tight pectoral muscles, forward head) have difficulty establishing healthy breathing patterns. 

Diaphragmatic breathing is challenging for people with severe respiratory symptoms. Its shallow breathing does not take effect because of restricted movements around the chest. 

To restore your posture, you will need to find ways to release these breathing muscles, which often become short and tight from overuse. 

Does your posture affect breathing?

Yes, posture affects breathing by changing the position of our chest, rib cage, or diaphragm. Poor posture restricts lung expansion, leading to shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and even pain if you try deep breaths.

How you stand or sit can affect your ability to breathe correctly, including the rate you take in air and release carbon dioxide from your lungs – known as ventilation. Poor posture restricts lung expansion, making it more difficult for us to take a full breath and bring in as much oxygen as we need.

The Intercostal muscles, located between your ribs, assist your diaphragm in elevating your rib cage and allowing more air into your lungs.

The Sternocleidomastoid, Serratus Anterior, Pectoralis Minor, and Scalenes are other muscles that aid the intercostals in breathing if it becomes restricted. 

These muscles allow for more movement of the ribs and air in and out. Breathing out results from posture muscles relaxing while pulling on your diaphragm so that air can flow out of your lungs.

What is the process of breathing?

The respiratory system (how we breathe) consists of your lungs, which are surrounded by the respiratory muscles. The diaphragm is the primary muscle used in the inhalation process. 

The Diaphragm

The diaphragm, the muscle of inspiration, is dome-shaped and is made up of muscle and fibrous tissue. It separates the chest from the stomach and is vital for respiration (breathing).

Breathing and Diaphragm anchored to the rib cage and spine

Diaphragm function

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that lines the bottom of your ribcage when contracted. It will make your lungs expand downward from their usual dome shape to take in more air when you breathe in or exhale. 

The diaphragm contracts and flattens once it’s been activated. This mechanism decreases pressure while also increasing the thoracic cavity’s size, allowing your lungs to expand as you breathe.

 

Breathing In

The diaphragm contracts and is drawn into (sucked into) the abdominal cavity, while the intercostals (the muscles that sit between the ribs) lift the ribs outward as we breathe in.

 

Breathing Out

As we breathe out, the diaphragm relaxes, returning to its dome-like shape, while the rib cage returns to its original position.

There are three phases of breathing.

Inhalation or inspiration; an exhalation or expiration; and a resting phase called apnea between breaths. 

To inhale oxygen into our lungs, we need to expand by filling the alveoli with air. Alveoli are tiny air sacs inside your lungs. These air sacs fill and empty as we breathe in and out, respectively. 

The diaphragm contracts, which expands and flattens out as it moves downward toward your abdominal cavity.

Respiratory System
INHALATION

Inhalation occurs when the diaphragm contracts, pulling down on its attachment at the base of the rib cage and pushing out against your chest wall while tightening around your lungs. Which causes them to expand laterally outward toward each side of your torso.

Muscles of inhalation:

  • Sternocleidomastoid
  • Scalenes
  • External intercostals
  • Diaphragm

 

EXHALATION

Exhalation means getting air out of your lungs. For example, you exhale when you breathe out or talk, laugh, cry or laugh. It is a passive process that happens automatically because our posture muscles exert a slight pull on the diaphragm. This is why you may feel your posture muscles working when getting out of breath.

Muscles of exhalation:

  • Internal Intercostal Muscles
  • Abdominal muscles
    • External Oblique
    • Internal Oblique
    • Transversus Abdominis
    • Rectus Abdominis

When we exhale carbon dioxide from our body, this is done by relaxing the muscles to allow for reabsorption into the bloodstream via capillaries.

Your capillaries are small blood vessels that allow for the exchange of nutrients and waste products between the blood and tissues of your body.

As a result, the diaphragm relaxes, moving back up to its dome-like structure towards your thoracic cavity.

What are you feeling when you breathe?

Breathing is done by an automatic process which means it does not require us to think about the action, but we do have some control over our breaths. For example, we can breathe faster or slower and hold in a breath for longer before exhaling if needed.

Your postural control muscles that keep you upright are what you feel when breathing out after holding in a deep breath, as they assist in keeping the lungs expanded. Muscles along your back, known as your posterior chain provide another layer of support when inhaling.

However, before we inhale again, we return to this mid-position between breaths. As a result, these posture muscles aid us in expelling all of the air from our lungs by pushing it out.

What happens to your breathing when you slouch?

Girl sitting in a slouching positionA common example is the ever-increasing Forward Head Posture and Jandas Upper Cross Syndrome. This pattern can be seen when most of us are looking down at our phones! This slouching pattern can lead to difficulties leading to shallow breathing. 

Because of chest restrictions, diaphragmatic breathing is challenging for these people, and even shallow breaths are ineffective due to restrictions around the chest.

Sagging or slouching posture will cause your diaphragm to be pulled up and forward. This will restrict the flow of air in and out of your lungs. Slouching also forces you to take shallow breaths, which does not provide a full inhalation or exhalation of oxygen.

Finally

How you stand, sit, and walk can significantly impact how well your lungs work. Poor posture restricts lung expansion and affects the flow of air in and out. This is why posture correction, including posture exercises to help improve posture, is often recommended for those who experience pain or difficulty breathing due to limited chest movement. 

Slouching posture will restrict one’s ability to take in bigger breaths which prevents good ventilation resulting in quick fatigue and lack of focus. Therefore, if you slouch, be sure that you’re taking care not only of your posture but also of what position you spend the most time at with regards to your phone! 

In general, try sitting up straight when possible – even if just while working from home! 

PLEASE NOTE

PostureGeek.com does not provide medical advice. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical attention. The information provided should not replace the advice and expertise of an accredited health care provider. Any inquiry into your care and any potential impact on your health and wellbeing should be directed to your health care provider. All information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical care or treatment.