WOOD-RIDGE, NJ -  Are you a chest breather or an abdominal breather? Does that make a difference?

According to Wood-Ridge physical therapist Dr Aylin Mahmut, diaphragmatic breathing, or abdominal breathing, is a fundamental for good health.

"I have a lot of patients come in for chronic neck and back pain, and the first thing I look at is if they are an abdominal breather or not," said Mahmut of Get Well Physical Therapy.

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"If you're an abdominal breather, it stabilizes your spine," she said. "99% of the time, when it comes to neck and back pain, one thing that they have in common is they're using their chest, not abdomen, so they're compensating."

The diaphragm is the main muscle for breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing, or abdominal breathing, comes from the diaphragm, which "sits underneath the lungs and separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity," explained Mahmut. Newborn babies use their abdomens to breath.

"We're born that way," she said. "Posture or injury causes that change, and we lose that pattern, which causes secondary, chronic problems and pain."

She said chest breathers take shallow breaths and are easier to see, especially those with chronic diseases like asthma or COPD, noting they take "quick breaths and they're still out of breath because they cannot capture the same volume of air."

Mahmut explained a simple self-assessment will help people determine whether they're a chest breather or an abdominal breather. Laying down, place the right hand on the chest, and left hand on the abdomen. Take three breaths and see which hand is moving more. People will be either a chest breather, abdominal breather, or combination.

People who are true chest breathers will be at risk for chronic neck pain, more fatigue, lower back pain, and altered, poor posture, said Mahmut, who said there is a way to re-learn proper breathing technique using the self-assessment method. Practice at night, when the lights are out and there are no distractions. Lay down, place the right hand on the chest, and left hand on the abdomen. Inhale and exhale. Make sure the hand on the abdomen is moving up and down. Practice for five to ten minutes a night. She said it will also "help with sleep, and re-center after a busy day."

"At the end of three weeks, it should be automatic," said Mahmut. "It takes 21 days to make a habit."

When should someone call a medical expert?

"At the end of three weeks, if you feel like you're still having a hard time getting the pattern right, come and see someone," she offered. "It may be a restriction in the joint, it may be a muscle problem. Something in their system physiologically isn't letting them take a breath and have that pattern right. That's the time to seek medical advice."



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