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The Diaphragm, Psoas, and Their Integral Role in Posture and Low Back Pain

When you think of the pillars of posture and the foundation of back health, the spine and its vertebrae often come to mind. Yet, two lesser-known but equally vital muscles, the diaphragm and the psoas, play pivotal roles in ensuring proper posture and reducing low back pain.

The Dynamic Diaphragm

Starting with the diaphragm, this dome-shaped muscle serves as a primary muscle for respiration, separating the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity. However, its role isn't limited to just breathing. It is essential in maintaining intra-abdominal pressure and core stability. A properly functioning diaphragm ensures that the spine is supported, reducing unnecessary strain and decreasing the risk of back pain.

Moreover, the diaphragm's rhythmic contractions and relaxations can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, our body's "rest and digest" mode. This state is crucial for healing, relaxation, and overall homeostasis. When the diaphragm functions correctly, it plays a role in reducing stress, which can otherwise exacerbate tension and pain, especially in the lower back.

The Pivotal Psoas

Often called the "muscle of the soul", the psoas is a deep-seated core muscle connecting the lumbar vertebrae to the femur. As Jo Ann Staugaard-Jones highlights in her book, *The Vital Psoas*, this muscle's health is paramount for overall well-being. Not only does the psoas play a crucial role in posture, but its connection extends to emotional and psychological health.

One of the intriguing connections that Staugaard-Jones brings attention to is the relationship between the psoas and the gut-brain connection. Our gut is often termed the "second brain" due to its vast network of neurons. The psoas, running through the abdominal cavity, closely interacts with our internal organs, including the intestines. Tightness or dysfunction in the psoas can impact gut health and vice versa. This muscle's health may reflect our emotional state, with chronic stress or trauma manifesting as a tightened or imbalanced psoas, which can, in turn, contribute to low back pain.

Harmony in Posture

A balanced and relaxed psoas, combined with a properly functioning diaphragm, contributes to the natural curves of the spine, distributing gravitational force throughout the body. This harmony ensures that no single structure is overburdened, reducing the risk of injuries, strains, and pains, particularly in the lower back.

To truly address posture and back pain, we must look beyond the spine. The diaphragm and psoas are essential players in this intricate ballet of movement, stability, and well-being. By recognizing and addressing imbalances in these areas, not only can we stand taller and move with ease, but we can also tap into deeper aspects of our well-being, connecting body, mind, and spirit.

If you're experiencing persistent low back pain, consider consulting with a chiropractor or therapist knowledgeable about the integral roles of the diaphragm and psoas. With the right guidance, you can unlock a newfound sense of balance and health.

Sol Chiropractic emphasizes a holistic approach to well-being, recognizing the interconnectedness of our body's systems. Dive deeper into the world of posture, back health, and holistic well-being with us.

Exercises to Strengthen the Diaphragm and Psoas

Taking care of your diaphragm and psoas doesn't just involve understanding their functions; it's also about proactive care. Exercises that target these muscles can help alleviate and prevent pain, enhance posture, and improve overall physical and emotional well-being.

One of the most respected methods of therapeutic exercise stems from Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS), an approach based on principles of developmental kinesiology. DNS posits that our movement patterns are ingrained in us from early childhood, and by revisiting these patterns, we can correct dysfunctional movements as adults.

1. Diaphragmatic Breathing

One of the fundamental exercises in the DNS repertoire is focused on diaphragmatic breathing.

- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.

- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.

- Breathe in deeply through your nose, ensuring your abdomen rises (indicating diaphragmatic activation) while your chest remains still.

- Exhale slowly through pursed lips.

- Repeat this for 3-5 minutes daily.

2. 3-Month Positional Breathing (DNS-inspired)

- Lie on your back and bring your knees towards your chest as if you were mimicking the position of a 3-month-old baby.

- As you breathe, let your knees drift apart but keep your feet together. This position promotes diaphragmatic activation and also gently stretches the psoas.

- Maintain deep, rhythmic breaths in this position for a few minutes.

3. Psoas Stretch

- Stand near a wall or a doorway.

- Bend the knee closest to the wall and bring it up towards your chest. Hold onto the wall for balance.

- Keep the opposite leg straight and push your hips forward, feeling a stretch in the front of your hip.

- Hold this position for 20-30 seconds, then switch sides.

4. DNS-inspired Quadruped Rocking

- Begin on all fours in a tabletop position.

- Ensure your wrists are under your shoulders and knees under your hips.

- Push your hips back toward your heels, maintaining a neutral spine. This movement engages the psoas in a functional manner, akin to how babies move.

- Return to the starting position and repeat several times.

5. Functional Integration: DNS-based Lifting

- Practice lifting objects from the ground with a focus on spinal neutrality and diaphragmatic breathing. This integrates both the psoas and diaphragm in daily activities.

These exercises, inspired by DNS principles and other functional training modalities, are excellent starting points to engage and care for your diaphragm and psoas. However, for best results, it's essential to consult with a DNS-trained therapist or chiropractor who can provide guidance tailored to individual needs.

Incorporating these exercises into your daily routine can lead to better posture, reduced pain, and an overall enhanced connection with your body. After all, the harmonious interplay of muscles, nerves, and joints is what makes us move and live pain-free. Embrace these exercises, and step into a healthier, more balanced you.

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions, lets get our bodies functional again!

-Dr. Sabrina Livingston DC, MS

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