If you had to guess which muscle in the body works the hardest, what would you guess? Now, what if I told you that you can’t choose the heart?
Here are some clues. This muscle works every few seconds whether you’re sleeping or you’re awake. When you’re exercising, it will work harder and faster. Finally, if it stops working, then so do you!
If you haven’t guessed it, the answer is your diaphragm – the large dome-shaped muscle that separates your chest cavity from your abdomen.
So how does this strange looking muscle help us breathe? When the muscle contracts, it flattens out. This allows the chest cavity to expand, which happens when you breathe in. When the muscle relaxes, the air then gets pushed back out of your lungs.
But why then do some people’s chest rise and sink when they breathe in and out? This is because the diaphragm does not have to do all of the work on its own. Accessory muscles such as the trapezius and levator scapula help your lungs expand by pulling up to give you more breathing space rather than pulling down. This is especially helpful when you need more oxygen, such as during physical activity,
However, this is a double-edged sword. While these accessory muscles are helpful when we need extra oxygen, they aren’t prepared to work every few seconds for days on end like our diaphragm, and can get tired and sore if forced to do so. Anyone who has had vocal lessons will have heard the line “breathe from your belly, not your chest.” This is a cue to breathe using your diaphragm rather than your accessory muscles, as it will help both to strengthen the diaphragm as well as take the load off of your accessory muscles.
Do you have tightness or soreness in your upper back? Chances are your diaphragm needs to be retrained to take the work off of your accessory muscles.
Dr. Mark Demers is a chiropractor, acupuncture provider and strength and conditioning specialist at Broddick Chiropractic and Acupuncture. Please feel free to contact the office to schedule an appointment with him at 519-394-0099