Thoracic Diaphragm: what is it and why is it important?

Thoracic Diaphragm: what is it and why is it important?
Well, the diaphragm is one of those things we hear about a lot but might not fully understand its importance and if we should get it treated by a therapist.

What is the Diaphragm?

To give a brief overview, our diaphragm is simply a muscle. Just like the muscles in our arm, it contracts and relaxes to create movement on the muscle’s attachment site. However, unlike a simple muscle on our arm, this muscle is large, dome-shaped muscle, attaches inside our ribcage and is very difficult to palpate. When the it contracts, it descends, pushing onto our abdominal organs and creates space in the chest where the lungs are. This space creates a pressure change to force air into our lungs for inhalation. When our diaphragm relaxes, the muscle ascends as we exhale air out of our body. So, instead of bringing that coffee from the table to our mouth, it helps us breathe.

What happens when my diaphragm is tight?

There are many reasons why you may be experiencing pain from your diaphragm. What many people do not talk about, is that just like any other muscle, our diaphragm can get tight and restricted. One of the reasons our this muscle gets tight is stress and/or anxiety. With our busy lives, we often experience a lot of this on a day-to-day basis. Our brain cannot interpret whether your deadline for your work project is any different from a tiger chasing you. Stress is stress to our bodies. In this state, our muscles are more on-guard and facilitated. This includes our diaphragm. Do you ever notice yourself breathe into your chest and neck during a deep inhale instead of into your belly? When your diaphragm is facilitated, it can restrict our ribcage from expanding and retracting during breathing. This can also create a pressure imbalance in our whole body long-term as our diaphragm separates the thoracic and abdominal compartments. The abdominal organs laying under the this dome-shaped muscle may experience increased pressure. Symptoms such as heartburn, bloating, digestive issues, and hernias can result from long-term pressure imbalances in the body. A chronic tight diaphragm may also create a pull on the neck resulting in sensation of tight muscles or pain around the shoulders and neck as the lungs’ connective tissue attach on the lower vertebras of the neck.

What can you do if you notice these symptoms?

Releases of the diaphragm do not have to be invasive and can actually be quite comfortable and gentle by manipulating the ribcage and using deep breathing. Among many of our therapists at Rehab1, RMT’s have training in palpation and release of the diaphragm muscle and educating self-care to improve your own breathing at home.

Some things you can do on your own are:

  • – Sessions of slow, deep breathing.
  • Manage your stress in whatever way works for you.
  • Massages are a great way to relax your mind and body.
  • Yoga is also something that focuses on deep breathing in a relaxed setting that is great for the body as a whole.

Just remember: Stop what you’re doing. Take a deep breath in… and exhale.

Jessica Hansen
Registered Massage Therapist
Student of Manual Osteopathy



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