Any persons concerned with health and maintaining an optimum amount of energy and output has to be aware of the amount of oxygen that is utilised in respiration. It is vital to any function of the body. Even resting respiration is vital to making sure that you can continue to function. Without air and oxygenation of our tissues/organs/blood – we die. Pure and simple.
Air cycles through our lungs 12-20 times per minute. Thus it is the efficiency at which our lungs can cycle air and the capacity at which we have that can draw in air and expel it. The capacity of the lungs is what athletes train to increase so that their ‘fitness’ is able to increase and better deliver oxygen throughout the body so that muscles and organs can continue to function at an optimal level. The lungs are dependant on air pressure to draw in air (oxygen) and this is changed when the diaphragm (muscle that expands across the bottom part of the thoracic cavity) contracts, creating a larger space. Air then rushes in to fill the available space and floods the lungs with oxygenated molecules.
Massage therapists influence the capacity of the lungs via the muscles of inspiration and expiration. Hence this can have direct effects on the ability of a person to be able to draw in air and expel it efficiently. In terms of these muscles, the diaphragm is the primary muscle concerned with this action but there are also secondary muscles of inspiration/expiration that are directly relevant to this action and a lot of benefit can be derived from working on these areas to increase movement and lung capacity.
This group of muscles is primarily concerned with movement of the chest cavity and directly assist with breathing. They lie between each individual rib and act like a set of cables, all connected via the same pulley to move the ribs and increase the capacity of the thoracic cage. They are separated into three (3) groups of external, internal and innermost muscles. Very similar to the abdominal wall with it’s internal/external obliques, the layers are directly behind each other and are enervated by the same intercostal nerves. The top most external intercostals are concerned with inhalation, the deeper internal intercostals and innermost group with exhalation. Often restrictions in chest movement can be directly linked with this group of muscles and specific ‘rib raking’ techniques moving from front to back can help with opening these muscles and allowing the ribs to move more freely. This is particularly relevant when someone has been involved with respiratory conditions and in particular coughing or even sitting up in bed when recovering from illness.
This important muscle is mainly used in forward rotation of the scapula and stabilisation of the scapula in the elevation of the arm. However when the shoulder girdle is fixed (via the rhomboids and the superficial neck muscles that act on the clavicle) the serratus anterior is directly concerned with elevation of the ribcage. This effect had a direct effect on respiration and in particular inhalation. When needing to draw large amounts of breath into the lungs (for example before a heavy lift/push/throw) the serratus anterior is directly used to pull the anterior ribs upward, thus increasing volume in forced inhalation. Working through here is paramount for someone involved in overhead lifting and also in those who have locked rib cages, particuarly those over zealous in push ups and chest press. Working with the arm placed overhead and opening the fibres of this muscle upwards can have a great releasing effect in relieving tension in the ribs.
This flat broad multi-faceted muscle is actually separated into two parts, superior and inferior. The superior fibres run deep to the rhomboids and act like a connected spider web between the shoulder blades. Whilst viewing these deep muscles, it would appear that their function is to work on scapula retraction. Indeed they resemble a 'back brace', however rather than giving you a wonderful posture for balancing your forward shoulders, their direct function is to elevate the 2nd-5th ribs and aid in inspiration. the inferior fibres are more easily palpated on the lower aspect of the ribs, mimicking the line of the latissiumus dorsi muscles. I talk to my clients a lot about the 'butterfly wings' coming downward and underneath you to lift you up as if you were being lifted. This is the action of the inferior fibres, drawing the lower ribs backward and downward to assist with extension of the trunk. This movement has direct relation to forced expiration.
anWorking here is hugely effective in helping to promote the freedom of the lower ribs and the forces of respiration. Freedom of movement along this line has a big impact on freedom of the thoracolumbar fascia as this muscle directly connects to this structure and also from the aponeurosis of the latissimus dorsi. So you can see the connection in these large primary muscles being locked up and over-riding the freedom of the lower ribs. Release here helps to free up not only the lower back but also the ability for the ribs to forcefully expel air, such as a runner going uphill.
Whilst there is some conjecture as to the muscles that are considered accessory muscles of respiration. Both these muscles (set of muscles when it comes to the Scalenes) are connected the clavicle and act on the upward elevation of the rib cage. Whilst primarily concerned with the rotation and movement of the neck, the actions of these muscles are particularly concerned with forced inhalation of the breath. When breathing inwards to draw as much air into the lungs as possible, these muscles act directly on expanding the volume of air drawn into the lungs. Releasing and working through these muscles can often lead to an ease in rib movement and freedom of the ribs during exercise.
Movement of the Ribs
To draw upon noted Kinesiologists, the action of the ribs is all important to function and ease of movement when it comes to the most basic of movements such as swinging, throwing, swimming, pressing or even mopping the floor. Lulu Sweigard and Mabel Todd, protagonists of IDEOKINESIS and the study of imagery with movement to enable and assist with postural integrity, talk a lot about the ribs acting as an umbrella, expanding and contracting in a 3 dimensional aspect. The importance and awareness of maintaining this image whilst utilising the broad movements of the thorax and the powerful primary movers of the AXIAL skeleton (such as swinging a racquet or bat) can be most advantageous in perfecting and increasing the inherent power that can be harnessed.
The all important ability to lift overhead is directly related to rib tension and being able to stabilise the thoracic cage whilst performing these movements. Ensuring the secondary muscles of respiration are released and able to move makes the effectiveness of these actions inherently more powerful. I am thinking in particular to the overhead lifts that occur in Olympic Lifting and indeed the CrossFit style workouts that are so in vogue at the moment. To make these lifts work effectively, the release and maintaining the length of the above mentioned muscles is vital to good technique and effective lifting.
So breathing is not only important and necessary for living, but the muscles that are concerned with breathing are vital to make sure that everything else we stress our body with and put it through doesn't lock us up and make us ineffective 'movers'. Paying attention to getting these particular areas in the right patterns and lengths is vital to ensuring optimum movement potential.