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How Your Posture Could Impact Your Lung Capacity

How Your Posture Could Impact Your Lung Capacity

Dr. Jason E Laureles, DC Dr. Jason E Laureles, DC
4 minute read

From desk jobs to cell phones, sitting down and leaning over a screen is relatively common for most people, and without realizing it, you can quickly become affected by poor posture. Not only can these posture problems cause back pains or increase the risk of degenerative disc diseases, but they can also affect lung capacity, and contribute to altered breathing dysfunctions or lightheadedness due to a lack of oxygen within the body.

Think about the way you sit when you’re at your desk or scrolling the feeds on your phone. Often, we don’t realize how kyphotic (hunched) our thoracic spin is when we’re so focused on our work. The main contribution to altered breathing dysfunction is rounded shoulders and forward head carriage, also known as “upper cross syndrome.” This means your pectoral muscles, upper trapezius muscles, and suboccipitals become tight, and your deep neck flexors and posterior back muscles weaken. It can also limit chest expansion and lung capacity, causing light shallow breaths instead of deep belly breathing.

As a chiropractor, several of my patients have experienced this posture issue and have trouble breathing while sitting at their desks as a result. So, how do you know you fall into the category, and what can you do about it? Let’s explore the top three questions.

How can I test if I’m experiencing decreased breathing?

One way to test altered breathing is through a chest expansion test. A standard adult chest expansion test should expand the rib cage 2-5 inches on inhalation. Your clinician can perform this to rule out respiratory pathologies or other related underlying factors.

Two thumbs are placed on either side of the posterior rib cage at the level of thoracic vertebra T10 to perform the test. As one inhales, the thumbs should move upward superior and expand out. The thumbs should move downward inferior on exhalation and pull the ribcage back in. Anything less than 2 inches can rule out a decrease in chest expansion and lung capacity.

Can I treat “upper cross syndrome” to improve my posture and lung capacity?

The answer is YES! As chiropractors, spinal manipulation is highly effective in restoring the cervical neck and thoracic spine range of motion. The manipulations allow the joints to mechanically function by setting your shoulders and head from anterior to posterior. This can relieve any tightness and discomfort you may be experiencing. The effects are more sustainable when spinal manipulation is paired with therapeutic exercises. Strengthening exercises can reeducate the muscles to regain proper posture and function while stretching tight muscles can alleviate dull achy pain caused by trigger points within the body.

The phrenic nerve controls the diaphragm. The nerve roots from the cervical neck are C3, C4, and C5. Bad posture can trap these nerves and cause interference within the body. However, spinal manipulation can help free up these nerves to function correctly and can aid in resetting breathing patterns. (One saying I will never forget “C3, C4, C5 keeps the diaphragm alive!”)

What is diaphragmatic belly breathing, and how can we practice it to gain total lung capacity?

One exercise I like to suggest is belly breathing because it is the most efficient and relaxed way of getting air into the lungs. The breathing technique also stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system to stay more relaxed and calm.

Start with inhaling through the nose, filling your belly with air, and exhaling through the mouth like you're blowing out a birthday candle. Remember that your diaphragm is also a muscle, so practice makes perfect! Practicing ten deep breaths three times a day can help train and strengthen your diaphragm.

About the Author

Dr. Jason E Laureles, DC is a Doctor of Chiropractic. He focuses on spinal correction, functional rehab, myofascial release, and health and wellness. Learn more about optimal wellness by following Dr. Jason on Instagram.

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