Anatomy Review: Diaphragm

By Skyler Zarndt MS, ATC, CSCS

"If breathing is not normalised - no other movement pattern can be" Karel Lewit, MD
“If breathing is not normalised – no other movement pattern can be” Karel Lewit, MD

The diaphragm might be one of, if not, THE most important muscle in our body.  But it is also a  muscle that is neglected more often than not.  It’s an afterthought in our training.  We can’t see it, it’s tough for the average person to feel it, and a lot of people have no idea how it works.  But its role in our body is so absolutely critical that ignoring it is ridiculous.

The man to the left is Karel Lewit, MD.  He is the founder of the internationally renowned “Prague School of Manual Medicine & Rehabilitation” and someone who is considered a founding father of modern manual medicine.  So basically, he’s smarter than most.

His quote about breathing, if you aren’t familiar with it already, will absolutely CHANGE the way you think about training as a whole.  Whether it’s your own training routine, or maybe a client’s or an athletes, we NEED to understand the function of the diaphragm and WHY its so important to creating the most optimally functioning athletes possible.

The diaphragm is a large, sheet-like muscle that separates the thorax from the abdomen.  It’s attachment sites and action (I dislike Origin/Insertion) are:

  • ATTACHMENT A
    • Sternal Portion: Inner Xiphoid process
    • Costal Portion: Innner surface of the lower 6 ribs
    • Lumbar Portion: Upper 2 or 3 lumbar vertebrae via 2 cura
  • ATTACHMENT B
    • Central tendon of the diaphragm
  • ACTION
    • Draws the central tendon down, increasing thoracic cavity volume

diaphragmAs you can notice, the diaphragm is a dome shape muscle.  It’s primary role is in respiration, although it should be noted that it may play a role in postural stabilization.  The diaphragm works like a piston and allows us to breathe through negative pressure.  When we contract the diaphragm, the dome flattens out.  Because the “top” of the dome is now lower, negative pressure in the thoracic cavity forces air INTO the lungs while also increasing intra-abdominal pressure.  As we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes, the dome rises, and air is pushed back out of the lungs.

Proper diaphragm function is critical to maintaining ideal respiratory function, decreased low back pain, better posture, overall abdominal strength, and improved performance in general,  I’ve worked with many athletes and clients with improper breathing stereotypes.  Most of them complain of low back pain, stiff or tight neck musculature (accessory breathing muscles), decreases spinal mobility, increase OVERALL tone in their musculature, and generally poor posture.

Now that we understand the anatomy and physiology of the diaphragm and how it relates to proper breathing, we can discuss HOW to correct our breathing stereotypes.

Better Breathing = Better Performance

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