It is well known that the lungs are the organs responsible for breathing, but it is probably less known that the lungs themselves don’t actually have to do much physically in order for breathing to occur. It is in fact, up to an incredible number of muscles working together in harmony that the function of pulling air in and pushing air out of the body is achieved.

The body is a perfectly synchronized orchestra, playing a symphony over and over again, thousands of times a day and the diaphragm is the “Maestro” conducting the entire thing. This underestimated muscle is the one responsible for starting every single breath throughout your day.

The diaphragm is a thin dome shaped layer of muscle and tendon that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. It is attached to the lower margin of the ribcage and deep along the spine at the back through to your sternum.

Its anatomical position and connection to the surrounding structures make it an extremely important muscle, providing postural support and core stability. Because of this, dysfunctional breathing can be a predictor for conditions such as low-back pain.

Understanding how to properly use the diaphragm is not easy and most people don’t know how to engage this muscle. During correct breathing patterns, the lower rib cage should widen and the abdominal wall should expand in unison.

Unfortunately, everyday life and psychological stresses can lead us to use inappropriate muscles (such as the scalenes, trapezius and intercostal muscles) to facilitate breathing. This translates into a shallow way of breathing that is produced from chest movement. This type of breathing should not occur as it alters the correct biomechanics of respiration, resulting in a significant decrease in lung capacity and in turn affects the oxygenation of the blood. Ultimately as dysfunctional breathing involves the upper chest and neck muscles, they can become hypertonic and overly stimulated, resulting in a stiff and painful neck and back.

By placing one hand on your upper chest and one on your abdomen you can check your breathing patterns. Is your upper chest moving more than your abdomen? Are you attempting to catch your breath frequently during the day? Is your breathing shallow? Answering yes to any of these questions may be an indication of dysfunctional breathing.

If you think you suffer from dysfunctional breathing, an Osteopath can assess you and may be able to provide relief. Osteopathy may be able to help by treating a tight diaphragm, neck muscles and restricted joints in the spine and your Osteopath can provide a list of stretches to do at home to help relieve tension between visits.

For advice on treatment, corrective breathing exercises or stress management strategies call our clinic on 1300 10 11 22 or email

By Dr Alberto Pezzillo (Osteopath)

Southside Clinic

Unley, South Australia

1300 10 11 22

Of course, each individual situation is different. For professional advice relating to your circumstance, please contact Southside Clinic to book an appointment with Dr Alberto Pezzillo (Osteopath), or any one of our Registered Osteopaths.