What's your diaphragm got to do with it?

We would all be forgiven for thinking that our diaphragm is just used for breathing, and of course breathing is the most important job.  However, you may be surprised to learn it also helps with the function of various other parts of your body including digestion, immunity (lymphatic flow) and blood flow, all of which are just as critical for your health. So, if your diaphragm is not working well, this can have some surprising effects on your health.




One of the major contributors to diaphragm dysfunction these days is sitting.  When we sit down, we squash our gut, which in turn puts pressure up underneath our diaphragm.  This means the diaphragm has to work much harder to breath and can become very tense.  In addition, the muscles in our upper chest have to work harder to breath the same amount of air.  All of this results in us all relying on our small upper chest muscles to breath rather than the much larger diaphragm.



When our diaphragm doesn’t move up and down as much as it should, all those other functions that the diaphragm contributes to also stop functioning so well.  For example, when the diaphragm pushes down on the gut whilst we breath in, this massages to the gut contents, helps digestion and improves blood flow around the gut.  When the diaphragm stops moving down as far because we are using other muscles to breath, this massaging action doesn’t happen, and we can become bloated and constipated.  Heartburn and reflux are also conditions greatly affected by the diaphragm, as pressure from the diaphragm on the entrance to the stomach is one of the most important mechanisms for preventing acid leaking back into the throat. Finally, diaphragm dysfunction can also contribute to a hiatus hernia, where the stomach moves through the hole in the diaphragm causing further problems with digestion.



Unlike blood flow, lymphatic flow (part of the immune system) does not have a heart pump to move fluid through the vessels, instead relying on muscle and joint movement to push the fluid through system.  One of the most important muscles for this is ….you guessed it….the diaphragm.  The diaphragm movement creates large pressure differences in your body helping move this fluid around your body.  If this is disrupted, this can result in, not only a build-up of fluid in the legs, but also a weaker immune system overall.  This has even been shown to increase your risk of developing bowel cancer.



It is very well knowing that your diaphragm could be dysfunctional, but what can you do about it?  In essence like all muscles in the body the diaphragm needs exercise in its full capacity.  The best way to achieve this is through diaphragmatic breathing designed to help you use your diaphragm correctly whilst you are breathing normally.


1.       Sit comfortably with your knees bent and your shoulders, head and neck relaxed

2.       Place one hand on your upper chest and one on your stomach, just below your ribcage

3.       Breath in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand.  The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.

4.       Breath out through pursed lips whilst tightening your stomach muscles and letting them fall inward.  The hand on your upper chest should remain as still as possible


Your diaphragm does far more than just breathing and even slight dysfunction can have an impact on your health.  Start to make small changes to your breathing habits now and you will feel the benefits in no time at all.   If you are still struggling with any of these conditions, please do come in and see an osteopath.  We can assess your diaphragm function and help using muscles work and mobilisation of the upper chest. We will help you find your health again.

If you are looking for a Farnham based osteopath specialising in manual therapy to treat pain or simply want to improve health and wellbeing, please get in touch at enquiries@outlinehealth.com or call 01252 850814.