Everyone knows that breathing is essential to life. Life begins when we inhale our first breath and ends when we exhale our last breath. It’s an autonomic function we seldom think about. It’s also something that most fibromyalgia patients, as well as many other chronic pain patients, do not do correctly.
People in pain will often hold their breath for short periods of time without even realizing it. And when they do breathe, they frequently have a very shallow, disordered breathing pattern. While this is probably an unconscious protective reaction to pain, it can actually increase the level of pain as well as worsening other fibromyalgia symptoms.
Proper vs. Improper Breathing
Breathing affects virtually every part of the body. It oxygenates the body, revitalizing organs, cells and tissues. Breathing properly:
- Fuels energy production
- Improves focus and concentration
- Eliminates toxins
- Strengthens the immune system
- Improves bowel function
- Reduces stress, tension and anxiety
- Increases feelings of calmness and relaxation
- Can lower blood pressure
- Increases metabolism, aiding in digestion and weight loss.
On the other hand, not breathing correctly can cause problems for a number of systems in the body, including the immune, circulatory, endocrine and nervous systems. Improper breathing can produce a variety of symptoms including:
- Mental fog
- Chest pain
- Digestive problems
- Irritable bowel
- Neck and shoulder pain
Breathing and Fibromyalgia
According to Richard Podell, MD, “More than half of our patients with fibromyalgia develop a disordered pattern of breathing. They take very small rapid breaths using the small muscles of their chest instead of slow, deep breathing with the large muscles of the abdomen. These changes are subtle and most people who ‘hyperventilate’ in this manner don't realize that their breathing pattern is out of sync.
“Shallow chest breathing makes people feel tense. Slow, deep abdominal breathing creates feelings of calmness. Disordered breathing can also cause a broad array of frightening symptoms including mental fog, dizziness, irritability, chest pain, feeling numb and more. Worsening symptoms then disrupt breathing further resulting in further difficulties for the person with fibromyalgia.”