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Lower Back Pain While Breathing Deeply

August 1, 2022

Keeping your back healthy is important. It’s the third largest organ in the human body and a source of many problems. In fact, it’s often termed the "hidden pain" because it is almost always masked by other symptoms. Back pain can be a beast. It won’t always respond to your best efforts and intentions.

However, the lower back pain that comes with breathing deeply can be especially painful for some people. This article will help you understand why deep breathing causes back pain and what you can do about it to prevent further pain.

We will look at why back pain is often exacerbated by deep breathing as well as how you can safely continue practicing your diaphragmatic breathing techniques in the presence of back pain.

What is "deep breathing"?

Deep breathing is a form of controlled breathing that relies on the diaphragm (a large muscle located in your abdomen) to expand and contract to draw air into and out of the lungs. It is different from "shallow breathing" because it uses more of the respiratory system to breathe in and out more deeply.

Deep breathing exercises have a number of uses, including reducing stress, improving your mood, increasing energy, improving focus, and regulating heart rate. One of the most common uses of deep breathing exercises is to help people better manage pain.

Why does deep breathing exacerbate back pain?

The deep breathing exercises commonly recommended to help manage back pain are diaphragmatic breathing and abdominal breathing exercises. Research shows that these types of breathing actually increase the pressure inside the abdominal cavity and lower the pressure in the back. This causes an increase in spinal pain.

The reason for this is the fact that the abdominal muscles contract during these types of breathing, which creates more pressure inside the abdomen. The pressure inside the abdominal cavity has to be released somewhere, so it pushes against the organs in the abdominal cavity, thus pushing against the back.

This can worsen pain from degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, sciatica, and other back conditions.

How to practice diaphragmatic breathing while suffering from back pain?

The best way to do this is to turn your attention to the relaxation of your lower back. This can be done by focusing on the sensations in your lower back during your deep breaths and slowly noticing the pain start to subside.

You can also use visualization to help your lower back relax—imagine your lower back slowly melting into the floor or chair, allowing the muscles to relax and the pain to subside. The key here is to focus on relaxing the lower back muscles in order to lower the pressure inside the abdominal cavity.

Another option is to modify your breathing technique by changing the speed and depth of your breaths. The idea is to find a balance between shallower, slower breaths and deeper, faster breaths that won’t exacerbate your back pain.

Is there a way to continue deep breathing when back pain is present?

Unfortunately, if you are suffering from back pain and deep breathing exacerbates it, then it is best to temporarily discontinue your deep breathing practices. You don't want to aggravate your back pain by contracting your abdominal muscles against your spine.

However, this does not mean that you should stop practicing all forms of breathing exercises. There are many types of breathing exercises other than deep breathing that you can continue to practice. These include:

Breathing from the diaphragm: 

This is an excellent type of breathing to practice when you have back pain, as it does not have the same exacerbating effect.

Instead of trying to make your abdominal muscles contract, be sure to focus on relaxing the muscles in your abdomen during abdominal breathing exercises.

Tibetan Buddhist breath: 

Tibetan Buddhist breathing exercises are diaphragmatic breathing exercises done with the assistance of visualization.

Visualization exercises: 

Visualization is the technique of using mental imagery that can be used in conjunction with breathing exercises.

Other useful tips for managing back pain while practicing breathing exercises:

Using ice: 

Applying ice to your back is a great way to help reduce back pain. Try to apply ice at least once per day (more if your back pain warrants it). Make sure to follow the guidelines provided by your doctor on how long to apply the ice.

Using heat:

Applying heat to your back once per day is another great way to help reduce back pain. Be sure to use a heating pad that has a low temperature setting. 

Using a support for your back

If you have a back injury, it is important to use a support when sitting in order to protect your back. Using supports such as a lumbar support or orthopedic back support can be very helpful in relieving back pain while sitting.

Getting plenty of sleep: 

Getting enough sleep is important for everyone, but especially if you are experiencing back pain. Sleep deprivation can exacerbate existing back pain as well as increase the risk of experiencing new back pain.

3 Simple Tips to Safely Continue Your Deep Breathing Practices During Back Pain

If you have been told you have back pain and that deep breathing makes it worse, then use these tips to keep breathing safely:

Focus on relaxing the muscles in your lower back

Relaxing the muscles in your lower back will help decrease the pressure inside the abdominal cavity, thus reducing the pressure on the back.

Use a slower and shallower way to breathe

Using a slower and shallower way to breathe will help lower the pressure inside the abdominal cavity.

Use different breathing exercises

Switching to different types of breathing exercises, such as breathing from the diaphragm or abdominal breathing, will help reduce the amount of pressure inside the abdominal cavity, thus helping to reduce the pressure against the back.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can’t I just do shallow breathing instead to alleviate back pain?

Shallow breathing alone is not enough to manage back pain, as it does not provide enough oxygen to all of the organs in the body. Deep breathing, on the other hand, provides plenty of oxygen for all of the organs, including the muscles. In fact, many people with back pain use a breathing technique called "diaphragmatic breathing" to reduce the pain.

Why is it important to know when to switch from deep breathing to shallow breathing?

It is important to know when to switch from deep breathing to shallow breathing because each type of breathing has different benefits. For example, diaphragmatic breathing provides more oxygen to the body, which is important for energy. Abdominal breathing, on the other hand, helps to relax the mind and body.

Why do some people with back pain find it helpful to do yoga poses?

Some people with back pain find it helpful to do yoga poses because yoga poses are similar to breathing exercises in that they help to relax the muscles. In fact, there is even one type of breathing exercise called "diaphragmatic breathing" that can be used to help relax the muscles.

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