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Breathing Pattern Disorders

25 May Breathing Pattern Disorders

Deborah Thomas, a Senior Physiotherapist at Halo Physio and who holds a special interest in respiratory and hyperventilation disorders, shares her knowledge on a key survival function that most of us do subconsciously, but so often get wrong!

Breathing is a central part of our wellbeing and is one of the most vital functions of our body.  The process of inhaling and exhaling involves the diaphragm (a large muscle attached to our rib cage), which acts like a balloon when assisting the lungs as they inflate and fill with air, and then deflate and exhale what our body does not require.  The rib cage expands and contracts in this process and as a result we should see our chest naturally rise and fall.  The whole process should be efficient and require minimal effort. On average we take 12-17 breaths per minute.

There are several reasons why we may develop an imbalance in our breathing pattern.  These include mechanical, physiological or psychological.

Imbalanced Breathing or Breathing Pattern Disorders present as a collection of symptoms that many patients (and medical professionals) do not realise are due to incorrect and inefficient breathing.  A recent definition of this collection of symptoms has been described as:

‘Inappropriate breathing which is persistent enough to cause symptoms, with no apparent organic cause’

The list below are typical symptoms that I see in clinic.  Patients will often mention a few of the symptoms below during their assessment without the realisation that they are in fact linked to Breathing Pattern Disorder.

Typical symptoms are:

  • Frequent sighing or yawning
  • Breathing discomfort *
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Erratic heartbeats *
  • Feeling anxious and uptight
  • Pins & needles
  • Upset gut-nausea
  • Clammy hands
  • Chest pains *
  • Shattered confidence
  • Tired all the time
  • Achy muscles and joints
  • Dizzy spells * or feeling spaced out
  • Irritability or hypervigilance
  • Feeling of ‘air hunger’

*Check with your doctor if you experience these symptoms

I use the Nijmegen Questionnaire as a objective marker.  This questionnaire is vital for diagnosis and treatment as it provides a baseline score that I can work on with my patient and hopefully lower it to an acceptable level as treatment commences.  During the assessment, it is vital that I also assess posture, breathing patterns and muscle imbalances.

Physiotherapy treatment for a Breathing Pattern Disorder can include:

  • Education regarding Breathing Pattern Disorder and its causes
  • Restoring the breathing pattern back to a basic, balanced pattern
  • Understanding how we store stresses in our body, and recognising the ‘warning signs’
  • Posture awareness and exercises to improve sitting and standing posture
  • Giving you the confidence to trust your body and mind, and re align your ‘rest-and-digest’ feeling of comfort


If you believe that you have signs or symptoms associated with Breathing Pattern Disorder and want to discuss overcoming the condition, please feel free to contact Deborah Thomas at Halo Physio on 01926 257 255

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