How Breath Holding Can Increase Incontinence

Tasha Mulligan MPT Health Pro
  • A common practice when we bend over to pick something up, when we get out of the car, when we reach into an overhead cupboard, or when we push something, is to hold our breath. This is what many of us do to brace our core so that we can push, pull, reach, and lift. What many don't know is that it is an ineffective way to stabilize our lumbar spine, leaving us prone to injury with any activity that pushes us beyond our base of support. 

    What actually happens when we hold our breath? We descend our diaphragm, taking up more space in our intra-abdominal cavity, pushing our pelvic floor down and our transverses abdominus muscle (lower abdominals) out, not allowing them to tighten around our lumbo-pelvic spine to stabilize our core. This action also locks our ribs, not allowing them to lift or expand, creating a tight ceiling that won't absorb increased intra-abdominal pressure. This forces the pressure down within our abdomen and pelvis to the weakest link, and that is the soft tissue of our pelvic floor. 

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    This is the same pelvic floor tissue that has three openings and is often described as a relatively thin tissue. It has the responsibility of holding up our bowel, bladder, and uterus against the effects of gravity throughout our days. And if we are a breath-holder, this same pelvic floor has to work overtime to hold up against the fluctuation of our intra-abominal pressure with simple daily tasks. This act of forcing all the pressure in our abdomen down toward our pelvic floor everytime we get up from the couch, or lean over to pick up the dog, will eventually takes its toll on the muscular and connective tissue of our pelvic floor and can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction and incontinence.

    So how can we break this bad breath-holding habit? Awareness of the moments where we hold our breath is the first step. The subtle moments are the most difficult to identify, but they include examples I have listed above as well as getting out of bed¸ bending over to put your socks on, picking up your little one, and more. Become aware of when you hold your breath and focus on breathing out as you perform these tasks in the future.  You have to train yourself to stabilize by breathing out and drawing your belly button and pelvic floor up and in each and every time.

    By doing this you will give greater support to your pelvic floor muscles, you will allow your transverses abdominus to draw in and around your lumbar spine, and you will allow your ribs to expand and elevate dispersing the pressure. All of this gives your pelvic floor an opportunity to remain healthy and fire efficiently and effectively with your daily activities.

Published On: May 12, 2010