Friday, April 22, 2011

Belly Breathing

Is there one thing to do, one exercise possibly, that a person can do to help with pain in the foot?  The surprising answer is yes.  Even more surprising; it doesn't involve the foot!

As a physician who treats people who want to walk, run and play without foot pain, I'm given the task of trying to find out why that person is having trouble.  Though the reasons why people hurt vary, there is almost a universal link that all of these patients (people who are having foot trouble) share; difficulty with posture.

Posture is what children neurodevelopmentally "learn" and what ultimately allows them to sit upright for extended periods of time, stand, walk and eventually run.  And the first step involved in the development of posture occurs mere seconds after birth, when we begin to breathe.  A recent blog post written by Mark Sisson on his Mark's Daily Apple site highlights exactly what I've been trying to explain to patients for years.  Breathing is the most fundamental of movements we make as humans.  All newborn and young children breathe the same way, using their diaphragm’s (belly breathing), which is the proper way to breathe.  It is the child's first act in preparing the body's core to become engaged.  In fact, the diaphragm makes up the ceiling of our core!  Thus, when we stop using our diaphragm to breathe, we lose the ability to properly engage our core, and by extension, lose the ability to properly maintain and sustain good posture.

So how does this relate to foot pain?  I'll keep the answer as simple as possible.  If you have good posture, then the body will not have to work very hard to stand and move.  It will be inherently stable.  It is the reason that children and exceptionally good runners move gracefully and effortlessly; they are maintaining their posture with movement.  It allows all the muscles and body parts to work together as they should in the act of movement.  If we start with poor posture, then our muscles have a different job to do: help hold us upright.  Therefore, when we try and move (stand, walk or run), our muscles now have to do additional work.  Movement is no longer effortless and it becomes work.  Because our bodies move over our feet with every step we take, we tend to place more stress through our feet with every step, predisposing us to developing pain.

As I alluded to at the onset, there is one thing we can do, that can be practiced at any time of day, in any place, and can have a major impact on improving posture and reducing foot pain.  That one thing is breathing.  We did it the right way when we started in this world, and we did it that way for a reason.  For more information on this topic and practical information on how to regain our breathing form, please click here.

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