Kingmaker – plays a strong role in determining the outcome for other players.

If you asked any gym goer or athlete what is the most important muscle in their body, glutes would probably be mentioned or the Psoas (hip flexor). But now focus is shifting to the diaphragm. A muscle that contracts on average 23,000 times per day, with every breath we inhale and exhale.

Not only is it’s function vital for getting oxygen into our bodies, but it is now understood to have an important role in how we move.

Anatomy

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen. It is a very thin structure of 2-4 mm. The top surface of the muscle is continuous with the pleura that line the lungs and the bottom surface is continuous with the peritoneum, the lining of the abdominal cavity.

Berdoni (2013) explains the fascial connections between the diaphragm and various parts of our body (cervical spine, Sacro-iliac joint).  The fascial layer that lies posteriorly on the diaphragm and connects to the Pelvic Floor is called the Interfascial Plane. In this plane sits the Psoas and Quadratus Lumborem (QL) muscle as well as some blood vessels.

To simplify it, imagine the diaphragm dome is a jelly fish and the tentacles floating below it are the Psoas and QL. The better the ability of the jelly fish to flatten/dome with each inhale/ exhale the better positioned the Psoas and QL are. When muscles maintain their appropriate length-tension they can function better. Basically, the better the movment quality of your diaphragm, the better your Psoas (most important) and QL can function. Which means better hips and lumbar stability.

Better Breathing………

When we ‘belly breathe’ we are using our diaphragm properly. That is, when you inhale (through your nose) your abdomen expands as opposed to your upper chest rising.  This can be hard to get the hang off as our muscles around our Cervical spine (Accessory Respiratory muscles) are overworking and they take over.

An easy way to feel belly breathing is to do the Prone Breathing technique:

  • Lie face down (head can be turned to side).
  • Inhale (nose again!) and push your lower abdomen into the floor.
  • SLOWLY exhale (try for a count of 8).
  • Try to do this for 2 minutes.

It is sometimes called crocodile breathing. The aim of the slow exhale is two-fold:

  • We absorb oxygen on the exhale part of respiration; so the slower it is, the more we absorb.
  • The slow-exhale means the diaphragm is returning to its domed position and there is an improved stretch potential.

Having to move 23,000 a day can result in a lot of tension in the diaphragm and long hours spent sitting at a desk and with slouched posture results in our diaphragm becoming stuck.

To free it up, you can do some self-release by just rubbing your index and middle finger along the line of your ribs where bone meets abdomen. It is safe to apply pressure (and for it to be uncomfortable) but 30 secs-1 min is enough. This can be done at your desk, sitting in traffic or at night time before falling asleep. This can also be done in a warm-up before a training session.

The techniques described here should be quick and easy to do, just how our breathing should be.

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As well as the functional benefits of having a good diaphragm there are also the cellular benefits. There is greater surface area for gaseous exchange (getting Oxygen into the blood stream) in the lower half of the lungs, which results in better Oxygen delivery to all cells. Which improves all cellular functions and eliminates any oxidative stress.

Blog by Orla Magorrian MISCP, Lead Physiotherapist at Dublin Sports Clinic.