Muscle of the Quarter – The Diaphragm

Feb 5, 2019

We all have a diaphragm, in fact all mammals have one. We can’t live without one and it’s an extremely important part of body. The diaphragm is such a hard working muscle, one takes 23,000 breaths in a day, so if you lived till 80 years old, you will take about 673,000,000 breaths! No wonder it’s important to pay attention to this remarkable muscle.

We’re going to explore what the diaphragm does, where it is and how it works as well as some exercises to strengthen your diaphragm.

What does the Diaphragm do?

The diaphragm sits below the thoracic cavity, this is the section of your chest that protects your heart and lungs. It separates this section from the abdomen in an upwards dome shape. Made mainly from muscle and fibrous tissue, the diaphragm’s main function is to aid the respiratory system. As the diaphragm contracts the volume of the thoracic cavity increases and your lungs fill with air, in a vacuum fashion.  And when your diaphragm relaxes the lungs elastic recoil properties make you exhale air.

The diaphragm is also important for urinating and passing feces as well as vomiting all by increasing the ultra-abdominal pressure. It plays a role in preventing acid reflux by applying pressure on the oesophagus as it passes through the diaphragm in a small opening called the oesophageal hiatus.

Diaphragm Injuries & Illnesses

Because the diaphragm plays such an important role in the respiratory system, it can be fatal when it’s injured or affected by an illness or disease. A diaphragmatic rupture or tear can be hard to spot, as the symptoms often closely resemble other possible injuries. A blunt force trauma is the often main cause for a tear in the diaphragm and usually requires surgery.

In some severe cases of COPD, the diaphragm cells can change causing the muscle fibres to lose some of their strength required to contract and relax, thus affecting your breathing. Find out more about COPD and how Osteopathy can help.

There are other illnesses and diseases that can affect the diaphragm in different ways and usually manifest themselves as symptoms related to breathing. Other symptoms that may be a sign of a diaphragm disorder include:

  • The inability to take a full breath
  • A sharp pain when breathing in or exhaling
  • Pain in your lower ribs
  • Shortness of breath after you’ve eaten
  • A pain that sits in the middle of your back

It’s important to visit a doctor or practitioner as soon as you can if you have any concerns about pains, especially with regards to the respiratory system.

Another silent condition that we see at the Good Health Centre is hyperventilation. While not very apparent at first glance, this condition can be diagnosed by a professional and monitored.

How to Strengthen Your Diaphragm

A lot the time people hold tension in the diaphragm and forget to breathe properly, this will usually manifest itself as shallow breathing. Holding in your tummy also reduces the ability to expand the abdomen and use the diaphragm properly. Speaking to one of our Osteopaths and getting some instructions on how to breathe properly will help your strengthen your diaphragm.

There are plenty of other exercises and tips that can help improve the strength of your diaphragm, if you have any discomfort when doing these exercises then it’s important to stop and consult a doctor or practitioner if you currently have or have recently had any respiratory illnesses, injuries or diseases.

  1. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably in a chair with your shoulders, neck and head relaxed and your knees are bent.
  2. Place one hand on your chest and one hand just below your rib cage.
  3. Inhale slowly through your nose, this should make your stomach move outwards against your hand.
  4. Purse your lips so that all the air from the lungs don’t just come rushing out.
  5. Exhale while tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inwards, you should feel this on your hand.
  6. Both hands must remain in situ and still for as long as possible.

You should repeat this process for between 5-10 minutes 3-4 times a day. At first you will get tired quite quickly but over time you will find it easier and more natural. You may want to start increasing the amount your exercise your diaphragm if you find it too easy.

The Diaphragm

The diaphragm is an amazing muscle that plays an important part in our respiratory system, without it we wouldn’t be able to breathe. At the Good Health Centre we’re fortunate enough to have a capnography which measures your rate of breathing and the amount of CO2 left in your body which is a good biological marker to detect abnormal breathing. There are numerous osteopathic techniques to improve breathing quality and depth as well as diaphragmatic movement. Patients find these techniques very useful especially when coupled with tailor-made exercises.

If you’re having concerns about your breathing, why not book an appointment with our capnograph experts?

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