I recently saw a manual therapist, Eric, for arm and elbow pain that was interrupting everyday activities. A manual therapist is someone who uses hands on techniques to mobilize muscles, joints, connective tissue and nerves to facilitate healing and restore function. Similar to a Chiropractor, but less abrasive.
At the start of my appointment, Eric took a picture of my posture. He showed me how my right side was “shorter” than my left. My right shoulder was sunken in caused by muscle tightness. He then performed a full body check. My right leg was part of my misalignment issue. He mentioned this was most likely brought on by using this side more or overcompensating from the left side. Which was exactly the case. The year before, I had a left knee injury that caused me to favor my right leg. He carefully worked a muscle in my right leg via muscle scraping. And, although it hurt like no other, the tension in my legs was released. He mentioned I may bruise but I didn’t have any bruising.
He worked his way up from the legs to my hips, back, shoulders, and then to my neck adjusting and releasing pressure at certain points. The pain I was feeling in my arm, specifically my elbow area, was due to irritation of nerves starting at my neck and shoulders. Very similar feeling to having a pinched nerve. I’ll get back to this in a minute and how I took a minute off my pace!
Each time Eric performed a task, he showed me on an interactive app the muscles he was working on and how they effected each nerve, where they connected to the bone and where they started and ended. I knew our body was amazing and muscles and bones connected, but to see the intricate detail of how each bone, muscle, and nerve connected and worked together, or in my case, worked against each other was fascinating.
Eric gave me many exercises to aid in keeping my leg muscles loose and eliminate the arm pain. While discussing my hobby of distance running he noticed one thing that may be a key contributor to my arm pain…even more than the overcompensation on my right side. My breathing!
When I breath, I do so with my shoulders rising up and down. It is what I was doing in his office. It is the most natural way for us to breath subconsciously. When running, especially when getting tired, breathing with the rise and fall of your shoulders puts an extreme amount of pressure on the muscles in our shoulders and neck. Our lungs go high into our chest; and with each breath the rising and falling of our lungs causes our muscles to tighten. It’s a domino effect from there. Tightness of the muscle, irritation of the nerve, soreness in parts of our body that may not even be close to the stressed muscle. If you are running and start to feel pain in the upper back, shoulder, or arm this may be why!
He explained how if I breathed not from my chest but from my belly, especailly focus on the rise and fall from my back, I would get better oxygen circulation and eliminate the pressure in my neck and back. I asked him if this is something I can train myself to do easily especially while running and he said, “yes, 100%.”
My run the next day, I focused on this new breathing technique. I was surprised at how easily it was for me to perform. I was amazed how I didn’t have the shoulder and back pain I usually got when running. I always attributed it to the hydration pack I wore. I even ran faster. Wait….what?!?!
Eric mentioned he works with distance runners and they all have feedback of shaving off time from their pace by using this breathing technique. Since I am not a speed runner, I remember thinking this wouldn’t be the case for me, but I was wrong. I did have a minute shaved off. I have had many runs since then, and each of them are at a new, faster pace. I haven’t trained enough for this to be a result of good training, and definitely not because of good eating. If anything, the Covid-19 pandemic has interrupted my training immensely! Changing my breathing habit has allowed my body to perform more efficiently. It is no longer trying to repair the damage I was causing when I was bringing pressure to my shoulders. I assume it also has to do with being more relaxed. Breathing in your chest brings more pressure to shoulders which puts more stress on your body than you realize. And, when you are stressed, your body can’t perform to it’s best abilities which may lead to injury.
It doesn’t matter what activity or hobby you love. If you breathe through your belly with focus on your back rising and falling and not through your chest, you will find you perform more efficiently. He mentioned I should also try the box breathing exercise. This helps slow down your breathing and relax your mind and body. By doing this exercise, I will become a more efficient breather which will help my distance running.
Box breathing is also a trusted technique for people with anxiety and stress. It is a simple exercise anyone can do anytime of the day. I have included this Box Breathing Exercisevideo and I highly recommend you try it, whether it be for your physical strength or to reduce stress and anxiety.
All my best to you, and happy, healthy breathing!