The Roll of Breathing and Diaphragm Control in Gait, Running and Human Locomotion

In this video you will see many great things. This video of Rickson Gracie is a testament to free fluid movement and body control.  Great athletes do not just practice one thing.  There is some great demonstrations of breathing and diaphragm control at the 3 minute mark, and we will try to parlay this nicely into today’s brief discussion on the Diaphragm.

Abnormal stabilizing function of the diaphragm may be one etiological factor in spinal disorders.  Today we have included a link to an abstract by the great and brilliant Dr. P. Kolar who we have studied under.  It considers the correlation between the dynamics of the diaphragm in posture and chronic spinal disorders.  What they found seemed to indicate that poor diaphragm positioning, posturing and control correlated well in their sampling of chronic low back pain clients. The study found smaller diaphragm movements and a higher diaphragm positioning/posturing.  The study found maximum changes in the rib (costal) intervals and middle areas of the diaphragm which asks one to consider the absolute critical importance of thoracic mobility. Extension, lateral flexion and rotation are frequently reduced in chronic back pain clients but we find it rampant in many clients and athletes.  We also find and encourage you to look for, assess, and normalize your clients abdominal oblique, transverse abdominus and rectus abdominus control.  Failure to properly and adequately anchor the lower rib cage to the pelvis via the abdominal wall (the whole wall, circumferentially around the entire torso to the spine) will result in asymmetrical breathing patterns.  And abnormal breathing patterns lead to abnormal spine motion and mobility. We frequently have to treat and instruct proper breathing patterns to help normalize lateral and posterior rib cage expansion and decent in athletes and clients, particularly those with low back issues but that is not an exclusive group to this problem. Tomorrow we will show you some simple but great videos showing rolling patterns and we will want you to think back to today’s blog post here on how loss of thoracic mobility in extension, rotation and lateral bend as well as loss of symmetrical abdominal skill and strength can impair a primitive movement pattern like rolling. This is a pattern that is first developed as a child to learn to turn over. It is a precursor to pressing up the torso like in a push up, which is of course a precursor to crawling, then cruising and then walking.

See, we were finally able to come full circle !  From breathing and the diaphragm to gait…… it is all connected.  Any faulty strategy or pattern driven into the body, even breathing, can impair gait.  Because with gait we have to attach anti-phasic arm swinging with leg swinging. Anything that disturbs this anti-phasic patterning, such as low back pain, will drive contralateral arm-leg swing to phasic patterning. Don’t think this is important to athletes and humans ? Well, you must have missed our 2 part blog series on Arm Swing.  We provide those links here. Part 1 link and Part 2 link

If you are an athlete, coach, or in the medical movement assessment or gait analysis field……heck, if you study the human body at all and you are not looking at or into arm swing you are not doing what we are doing. And you are missing the bigger boat. So many “gait specialists” and “gait analysis” programs are not even capturing the arm swing let alone looking at it and discovering its critical importance. Did you miss our dialogue on frozen shoulder and impaired contralateral hip dysfunction ?  If you look for it, which many in the therapy world are not, you will see why we treat that opposite lower limb.  Maybe the rest of the folks around the world will catch on in time.  We are slowly getting there, we now have readership in 23 countries, and growing.  If only we had more time, the apocalypse of December 21, 2012 is coming on fast !

The article also found maximal changes in the middle diaphragm areas which suggests looking at the psoas, quadratus lumborum and crus because of their fascial blending into the diaphragm from below.  Thus, investigation of many muscles from below must also be a part of your assessment or training.  But we will save this discussion for another blog post.

We hope you can see that after a year of blog posts (over 500) that you can begin to see the method of our obvious madness.  That being that everything is important for human gait. Remember, we will blend this blog post into the roll assessments you will see on tomorrows post.  So ya’ll come back now……. ya hear ? 

In closing, it is blog posts like this one that we always hope will go viral on the internet. Especially because it has links to two previous articles we wrote on arm swing which we feel are so very important and commonly overlooked.  And we have more arm swing stuff to share, we just need more time.  Consider linking this article to your website, sending it to friends in the fields we discussed. This information is important. It is why we take the time every day to write and share our 40+ years of clinical experience for free. Because the world needs to know this stuff so more people can be helped all over the world.  Consider sharing this with someone or linking it to your Facebook page or website or slap it up on someones forum to create dialogue. Thanks.

The leg bone is connected to the thigh bone…. as the song goes…….

Shawn and Ivo


here is Kolar’s abstract……

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2011 Dec 21. [Epub ahead of print]

Postural Function of the Diaphragm in Persons With and Without Chronic Low Back Pain.


OBJECTIVES:To examine the function of the diaphragm during postural limb activities in patients with chronic low back pain and healthy controls.

BACKGROUND: Abnormal stabilizing function of the diaphragm may be one etiological factor in spinal disorders, but a study designed specifically to test the dynamics of the diaphragm in chronic spinal disorders is lacking.

METHODS: Eighteen patients with chronic low back pain due to chronic overloading, ascertained via clinical assessment and MRI examination, and 29 healthy subjects were examined. Both groups presented with normal pulmonary function test results. A dynamic MRI system and specialized spirometric readings with subjects in the supine position were used. Measurements during tidal breathing (TB), isometric flexion of the upper or lower extremities against external resistance together with TB (LETB and UETB) were performed. Standard pulmonary function tests (PFT) including respiratory muscles drive (PImax and PEmax) were also assessed.

RESULTS: Using multivariate analysis of covariance, smaller diaphragm excursions (DEs) and higher diaphragm position were found in the patient group (p’s<.05) during the UETB and LETB conditions. Maximum changes were found in costal and middle points of the diaphragm. In one-way analysis of covariance, a steeper slope in the middle-posterior diaphragm in the patient group was found both in the UETB and LETB conditions (p´s<0.05).

CONCLUSION: Patients with chronic low back pain appear to have both abnormal position and a steeper slope of the diaphragm, which may contribute to the etiology of the disorder. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther, Epub 21 December 2011. doi:10.2519/jospt.2012.3830.