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Lungs health

Diaphragmatic breathing: here is why it’s useful to know how it works

May 17, 2018

The diaphragm is a large dome-shaped muscle that separates the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity and it is the main inspiratory muscle. Its contraction determines the expansion of the thoracic cavity, which, synergistically with the activation of the other inspiratory muscles, allows the entry of the air flow necessary for the inspiratory act. The exhalation, on the other hand, is almost entirely due to the elastic return of the lung in association with the contraction of the abdominal muscles.


The diaphragm is a muscle that you can contract voluntarily through a guided breathing that is called diaphragm breathing. This type of breathing is considered a good exercise in many areas and can be used to try to increase lung expansion, improve the effectiveness of ventilation, reduce stress and anxiety and prevent any lung complications resulting from chest and abdominal surgery. We talk about this topic with Dr. Katia Amato, physiotherapist at Humanitas.


How to perform the exercise

Sit comfortably on a chair or lie down on a flat surface, with your knees bent and your feet on the floor, or with a cushion under your knees.

Place both hands on the abdomen and perform a deep inhalation, trying to inflate the abdomen. During exhalation, the abdomen empties naturally and accompanies the emptying with a small contraction of the abdominal muscles.


Perform the exercise for a few minutes, every day.


At first it may not be easy to perceive the movement of the diaphragm and consciously control it, so it is advisable to find moments of calm in which to concentrate to perform the exercise. With the passage of time, you have an improvement in the elasticity of the diaphragm and also the awareness of its movement and you can dedicate yourself to this training even in some quiet moments of the day such as during the work break or while watching TV.


The effects of this exercise are similar to the effects of deep and quiet inhalations and allow an overall improvement of the breath and instill a pleasant feeling of relaxation.


Let us not forget the positive effects of this exercise on our posture. The diaphragm originates from the first four lumbar vertebrae and is inserted anteriorly on the last six ribs. For this reason, practicing diaphragmatic breathing exercises can help in the prevention or treatment of acute or chronic back pain.


Finally, this exercise can be proposed in the integrated rehabilitation treatment of some respiratory pathologies, such as COPD, in which the diaphragm undergoes mechanical alterations that involve a massive recruitment of respiratory muscles accessories. In these pathological pictures it is always advisable to have a specific framework from the medical and rehabilitation point of view and a physiotherapist, who instructs and educates the patient to perform the exercises autonomously, in the most appropriate manner and posology for the clinical picture, must supervise the diaphragmatic breathing exercises.

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