Breathing Impairments


June 27, 2016

Breathing is one of the most basic requirements of life.  We need to breathe in oxygen to help fuel our energy systems, and we need to exhale the byproduct, carbon dioxide (CO2), to maintain our normal blood pH between 7.35-7.45. The average person will take between 17,000-30,000 breaths per day in order to fulfill its need for gas exchange. It is a subconscious habit that is controlled and monitored by portions of the brainstem.  However, many of us have developed suboptimal breathing habits, which can lead to dysfunction throughout the body.

Every time we take a breath we produce movement throughout the body, specifically our diaphragm, ribs and spine.  Through injury, poor postures or repetitive movements in our daily lives, we can create changes in how our muscles, diaphragm, ribs and spine interact with one another.  These changes often lead to over-inflation of our left lung, and under-inflation of our right lung.  This results in poor gas exchange, and increased exhalation of CO2.  Decreased CO2 in our blood stream (hypocapnia) will cause an increased in blood pH and can lead to a multitude of symptoms including: agitation, anxiety, exercise induce asthma, gastrointestinal irritation, numbness/tingling, dizziness, weakness, chest pain and dry mouth to list a few.

When our brains realize we are not getting proper gas exchange, it will subconsciously adapt how our bodies move in order to breathe.  This can lead to increased activation of neck muscles to help breathe, which often lead to neck pain and headaches.  It can also cause rib flares, spinal scoliosis, shoulder blade winging, and other orthopaedic impairments.  Being taught how to breathe correctly by a trained practitioner will reduce symptoms and correct for these orthopaedic flaws.

At Portland Physical Therapy we perform a comprehensive evaluation process that entails assessment of our patient’s breathing patterns.  We couple their breathing patterns with the other orthopaedic impairments we find, and create a program specific to their needs.  This not only improves their current symptoms, but creates long lasting changes in their system to reduce risk of future problems.