This was a quote by a former client. He was a pretty fit guy, worked out regularly, played golf, and ran 5ks. He came to me with some low back pain, nothing severe, but it had been going on for a few months and he decided to do something about it, because it was starting to affect his ability to participate in his sports and hobbies.
After I assessed him, I found his biggest deficit was he had poor ribcage positioning, a very common issue I see with clients. His ribcage was elevated and his ribs were open a little more than they should be. We will get back to how this is an issue…
I had him lie on his back into the Postural Restoration Institute’s infamous “90/90 position” where your hips and knees are at 90 degrees and your feet are on a wall, as if you were sitting in a chair, except lying on the floor. I gave him a balloon with the instructions of “breathe in through your nose and out slowly through the balloon.”
Guess what? He couldn’t blow up the balloon. A healthy, fit, 40 year old man could not blow up a stupid balloon. Couldn’t even get it started. He wasn’t a smoker. He didn’t have asthma. But as I watched this poor guy’s face turn red as he tried to exhale, I could see in his eyes he was in shock over this newly discovered weakness.
I gave him some help and pushed his ribs down as he exhaled and POOF! The pink balloon started filling up and he looked like he was blowing up a giant piece of gum (pink was the only color I had left. Lucky for me, he was secure in his masculinity). By the end of the session, he was exhausted from 2 breathing exercises, but had no back pain.
I know what you are probably confused about why this matters. Well, you have lots of muscles that help you breathe, besides the diaphragm. Poor positions will cause your accessory breathing muscles to take over and your diaphragm will become less active. Your ribs will start to widen and elevate. Your diaphragm attaches to your lumbar spine, so a weak diaphragm paired with an elevated rib cage causes your spine to extend (arch) too much. Too much extension = increased pressure on discs = pain.
Back to balloon dude, once we established better ribcage position (and he was able to blow up the balloon without my help), we started to see some positive changes. His pain went down very quickly, like within one-two sessions quickly. But after a couple of weeks, his ribcage was able to descend and he could squat better. Bonus points, his run time improved because he could breathe more efficiently.
I’ve had many clients with this same issue, and while it still makes me laugh when they give me that dumbfounded look when I hand them a balloon, they usually see pretty quickly how difficult it is to breath correctly. Once I establish a proper breathing pattern, most of the time their symptoms improve.
So if you come to me for back pain and are expecting a massage or stretching, think again. I may, just in fact, destroy you with a balloon.
Are you having some back issues that are starting to affect your sport performance? The sooner you get it addressed, the quicker you will get back to full status. Hit me up and I can help you get back on track!