Need Pain Relief Now? Penrose Physical Therapy Talks About Diaphragmatic Breathing: The Underutilized Tool We Can All Use to Decrease Pain, Tension and Anxiety


Submitted by Penrose Physical Therapy

If you happen to wear a smart watch these days it will prompt you to take a few minutes to practice deep breathing. Do you know why? Because there is more evidence that deep breathing does decrease our stress and pain levels. This is a great tool you can use right away. We will walk through this in detail so you can experience some relief.

First let’s talk about what happens when we are in pain.  When we have an injury the signals are carried to our brain along nerve fibers.  The brain can then send signals to increase or decrease the pain. Endorphins can decrease the pain. The brain can also release neurotransmitters or hormones to increase the pain. We are all very different as to how we “feel” pain and hopefully this helps you understand why some people have a lower threshold and some a higher threshold.  It isn’t necessarily within their control. Depending on how our brains perceive pain and past experiences that influences how we register pain.

Have you heard the saying “90% of what we worry about never even comes to pass?” When we are in pain what should we do then? Worrying about the worst case scenario doesn’t seem to be all that helpful.  Instead I want to encourage you to try deep breathing.

How does deep breathing work?

  • 7 breathes per minute (which is half of the normal rate). You will be breathing deeper and longer per breath. You want to spend 60% of the time on expiration (the exhale)and only 30% on inspiration with a 10% pause in between breathes. No holding your breath – a pause is truly a short pause.
  • You will need 20 minutes total of this breathing to get the benefits of decreased pain, tension, and improved relaxation.  However take a small break every 5 minutes.

What will you notice afterwards?  The research has found:

  1. Decreased feelings of tension, anger, and depression afterwards and a more general reduction of stress levels. Several studies have demonstrated a reduction of negative feelings due to breathing exercises both in patients with chronic pain and healthy controls

2.The most striking findings (and why I wanted to discuss this) is significant increase of pain thresholds in our subjects only after the deep breathing protocols (they subjects were less sensitive to pain stimuli).

  1. Breathing decisively influences “autonomic and pain processing”. The studies found that deep breathing can modulate the sympathetic arousal and pain perception. It seems to point to the ability of deep breathing to have an inhibitory affect on pain processing.

I will walk you through how to do this.

  1. Start on your back with your legs bent (or whatever position is the most comfortable for you).
  2. Make sure it is a quiet environment or turn on white noise
  3. Start with your hand on your belly. As you breathe in through your nose feel your hand rise on your belly – keep your neck, shoulders, and head relaxed. (only 30% of a cycle should be here – about 2.5 seconds). Don’t let your ribs flare excessively. When you inhale the belly should do most of your rising NOT your chest.
  4. Exhale through the mouth. Think of bringing your lower ribs down and in and keep the exhale going longer than you think (about 5 seconds). Exhale longer than you think… 5 full seconds. Slight pause at end.
  5. Go into inhale again. You shouldn’t feel stressed/strained/or like you are holding your breath – but it will feel like the exhale is considerably longer than usual.

*The long exhale actually lengthens the diaphragm and for many people this will help with chronic low back pain. The diaphragm influences back pain more than people realize.  If you have trouble with low back pain and find this breathing difficult you would benefit from physical therapy to solve this issue.

Please commit to deep breathing daily for your stress and tension and see how it influences your pain.  In fact, I honestly believe this is why so many neurosurgeons recommend Yoga as the miracle cure for back pain.

If you have not attended our Yoga class you can mention this article and attend a session for free. This class size is limited to 8 people so we can provide a more feedback on your positions and posture. We modify the poses for arthritis and osteoporosis as most of our clients have these conditions. You will learn deep breathing in Yoga while improving your posture and mobility.

We are located at 1445 Galaxy Dr. Suite 301 in Lacey.  You can call us at 360.456.1444 or email for more information. Visit the Penrose & Associates Physical Therapy website to learn more about us and find more free pain tips reports on back pain, knee pain and so much more!

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