Breathing in physiotherapy


How can we define breathing? For some, it is the gas exchange between oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2). For others, it is one of the essential functions of living beings or simply an involuntary movement. These definitions are all true. Inhalation and exhalation are rhythmic, spontaneous and unconscious movements that make the respiratory system a true life machine.

Types of breathing

There are two types of breathing: costal breathing, which is done with the top of the chest, is a breathing that is superficial and not very effective. The other, diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing, is deeper and allows for a greater diameter of the thoracic cage, thus a better oxygen supply. This type of breathing has more benefits than costal breathing.

Diaphragmatic breathing is recommended in physiotherapy, as the diaphragm, the main muscle responsible for inhalation, is a muscle that is constantly and permanently solicited. Therefore, a lack of flexibility in its tendon can cause forced breathing that will put tension on the accessory muscles. The accessory inspiratory muscles are supported at the spinal, cranial, scapular and sternocostal level and can be linked to pain in these areas.


Posture also plays a very important role in respiratory biomechanics. For example, rolling up your shoulders, putting your head forward, bending your torso and relaxing your abdominal muscles, all contribute to constraints on the respiratory muscles and a decrease in the expansion of the chest.

A physiotherapy assessment would be important to evaluate the shortening of the inspiratory and expiratory muscles, the mobility of the thorax, the breathing pattern and the posture. The physiotherapist will use different techniques to help you depending on your condition: re-education of respiratory biomechanics, manual therapy, diaphragmatic maneuvers for relaxation, as well as mobility and flexibility exercises. Cardiorespiratory physiotherapy is also recommended for acute and chronic cardiac and respiratory conditions. Other disciplines such as relaxation, meditation and yoga can also be very helpful.

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