If you suffer from chronically tight neck musculature and stretching, mobilizing, trigger pointing, massage don’t seem to help, you may need to look at your breathing patterns.
Breathing is one of those automatic body functions that most people don’t take too much notice of, until they have just done Fran, and are lying on their backs, panting like a dog. Ever notice when you are breathing heavily, how much your chest and belly move? There are a number of muscles contracting to facilitate the act of breathing and if some of these muscles are tight and restricted, it can lead to dysfunctional breathing patterns, commonly associated with Upper Crossed Syndrome.
Normal relaxed breathing (belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing) is where the belly moves outward during a breath in (inspiration) and inwards during the breath out (expiration). Relaxed breathing is the role of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles. As breathing becomes more labored, the secondary/accessory respiratory muscles (upper trapezius, scalenes, levator scapulae, pectoralis minor and sternocleidomastoid) and the abdominals will kick in.
Those with poor posture (Upper Crossed Sydrome) typically have tight upper trapezius, levator scapulae, scalenes and pectoralis minor which can lead to an altered respiratory pattern in which these muscles facilitate a “chest breathing” pattern. The body is then reliant on these secondary respiratory muscles and this then drives the never ending cycle of tight neck and shoulders, poor posture and dysfunctional breathing. This can be why you smash the crap out of your traps but never seem to change how tight they are. Maybe you need someone to have a look at your breathing pattern.
How to check your breathing pattern:
- Take a look at your posture first – have someone take a photo of you from side on (sitting and standing). If you resemble the guy either on the left or the right, you’ve got some work to do in the posture department.
- Place your hands around the bottom of your ribcage, just under your chest. Take a couple of normal breaths in, then a couple of bigger breaths and then the biggest breath in you can. Pay attention to whether or not your lower ribcage is moving outwards during your larger breaths. If you feel your shoulders moving upwards and your chest moving outwards during the larger breaths – your breathing pattern is dysfunctional. You ideally want your ribcage to be moving outwards – like a bucket handle – while you are breathing deeply. This indicates that you are effectively using your intercostals, diaphragm and abdominals.
Working on improving your breathing pattern will take some practise. After all, you need to retrain your primary respiratory muscles (diaphragm and intercostals) to get back to business. Focus on expanding the bottom of your ribcage as you breathe in deeply and hopefully soon those tight neck and shoulder muscles will be a thing of the past.