Massage therapy for breathing restrictions: Take a look at your breath

Are you noticing pain in your body? Pain often ends with massage therapy for breathing restrictions!

Christine Maddock, Senior LMT

What is the most common issue you see with your clients?

There are many common areas of pain that I see with my clients. Clients will often experience tension in their neck and shoulders. They may also experience low back pain that runs down the side of the leg. But after assessing clients both on and off the table, there seems to be an even bigger commonality. One that affects the whole body. Most of us are experiencing some level of breathing restrictions. And most don’t realize just how much massage therapy for breathing restrictions can help!

Often this means our core is weak. This can lead to spine destabilization. Although, while the diaphragm is the primary breathing muscle, it’s not always the problem muscle. So, it’s very important to do a thorough intake to get a full scope of an issue.

How do you use massage therapy for breathing restrictions to correct issues?

There isn’t one right way to use massage therapy for breathing restrictions to treat a client. Everybody is different and can change on the daily. Recently, I’ve been asking my clients do a standing flexion & extension test. The subsequent steps will depend on what has a bigger dysfunction (flexion or extension). Since the body will sacrifice mobility for stability, I check there first. Stability comes from the core. The core includes: the Transverse Abdominals, Internal Abdominal Oblique, Pelvic Floor, Erector Spinae group, Diaphragm, Multifidus. 

The primary objective is to maximize internal abdominal pressure & stability for my clients. With a strong core free of abdominal adhesions, their functional patterning will start to change for the better. This will hopefully take pressure off of having to use the breathing muscles for postural support. If the core isn’t strengthened, the body will correct muscle imbalances by releasing dysfunctionally tight facilitated muscles. And activating weak inhibited muscles. This is a very short term solution and will cause more pain in the long run.

At the end of a session, I’ll provide exercises for the client to do at home. It’ll consist of a supine or prone exercises to optimize internal abdominal pressure. I’ll follow this by suggesting a pendulum exercise for the problematic muscle. In this pendulum, the client moves through the range of motion for the muscle while breathing. The breath will either be from a shortened position to lengthened or the reverse. It depends on where the client is and where they need to go!

What do you like about using massage therapy for breathing restrictions on the diaphragm to relieve pain?

I enjoy working on the diaphragm because helping people learn to fill the ribs through breathe is quite rewarding. So many of my clients have restrictions in breathing. These restrictions in breath can cause a ton of issues, impacting all systems in the body.

My favorite system to work on is the Central Nervous System (CNS) as all body systems are effected by it. My modality/treatment of choice is CranioSacral Therapy.

What inspired you to start a career in massage therapy?

Massage Therapy was actually supposed to be a stepping stone for me as I ventured down a road towards Physical Therapy. Originally an accountant, I realized that the finance field for me. I really enjoy interacting with people and working in a hands on kind of way. I decided to move in the direction of helping people heal. Becoming a massage therapist in New York State is a rigorous path. It requires 1,000 hours of education and hands on experience in addition to curriculum requirements.

About a month into school, I was hooked. I witnessed, first hand, how the power of touch could transform people. The more I worked on people, the more I could see with my hands. I started being able to hone in on palpating texture and tone through touch. I could all of a sudden feel information about a person in their connective tissue, muscle tissue and bone. How incredible!

Do you have a favorite massage therapy success story?

An occupational therapist came to see me after they had an elective surgery. I proposed CranioSacral Therapy as part of the rehab process. We worked on the structural restrictions in the dura mater encircling the brain and spinal cord. I coupled that by working on the fascial and muscle tissue restrictions around the chest and arms. The client was impressed with the reduction in pain, improvement in range of motion and greater mobility.

Another success story involves a tri-athlete. This client decided to work with me every two weeks as a part of his routine. He not only felt better as he was training, but he would continue to personal record (PR) during his races.

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