Belly Breathe

I spent the weekend in severe pain when my back problems flared up again. At one point I had a muscle spasm so bad I was laid out for a whole day.

I don’t write about my back pain very often, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the first time you’re hearing about it. Back pain is not a fun topic to write or talk about and I figure that I have to deal with it often enough in life that I can leave it out of my writing.

But it’s a part of my life, and I promised that I would be more honest with this blog, so today you get to read all about it.

On Monday I went to see the chiropractor/physical therapist who fixed me last time I had problems—back in the summer of 2014. I’ve been taking pretty good care of myself since then. Although, clearly, I have not healed completely.

She said that part of my problem (this time) is that I’m aggravating the muscles under my scapula—where the spasm was centered—by breathing too much with my chest and not enough with my belly. This is a bad habit I probably developed from having asthma as a kid. I lift my shoulders and chest using these back muscles when I am trying to grab a full breath.

The solution she proposed was to fix my blind spots (how I’m doing certain exercises and with which muscles)—and learn to belly breathe.

It’s worked so far. It’s only Wednesday and my pain is already down significantly from where I was 3 days ago. The muscles that spasmed are still weak and sore, but as long as I remember to belly breathe and do my exercises, I’m able to write and work and go about my day without interference.

I even went for my normal 1.5 mile walk this morning. Haven’t been able to do that since last week.

So, back pain bad, doctor good. I wish I would have had the awareness to bite this in the ass before it got really bad again, but I never can predict my breaking point. Some mundane action triggers a muscle spasm—like taking water out of the fridge or reaching down to tie my shoes—but it’s really my bad habits that are the source of the problem.

Usually, I go to the doctor until the pain is gone and then I’m on my own again. But since I’m starting to see a pattern, and habits are hard to break on your own, I’ll keep seeing the doctor until the core problem is resolved this time.

Until I learn to belly breathe naturally. Until the pain is completely gone and my core is strong and my posture is correct. I’ll have to come up with some benchmarks, but I’m getting really tired of going back to physical therapy every couple years. I can’t change the fact that I have scoliosis and an extra vertebrae and a 12 year history of back problems. But I can change how I deal with it.

So I’ll be here belly breathing if you need me.

Photo by Teddy Kelley


  1. Mark Belosa says:

    Just read this today and it’s my first time to hear about how belly breathing can help with back pain. I have been dealing with back pain, too, for the past 7 years or so. Although I must say that my condition has improved the past couple of years. Aside from keeping myself hydrated and taking frequent breaks, I also use an inversion table (should be using it more often).

    Now this may sound silly but since you mentioned belly breathing, I thought, well, maybe, my singing might have been helping me deal with my back pain, too. Aside from being a stress reliever, singing requires me to belly breathe. If this makes sense to you, try to sing more often, maybe even study singing and then write a story or a novel about it. 😛

  2. Matt, I occasionally get muscle spasms in my back, & as I teach martial arts, that can really slow things down. So I suggest that you invest in a TENS (Transcutaneous Electronic Nerve Stimulator). For $30, you can get a decent one at Amazon (, & it will do wonder for your problem. I just loaned mine to another Sensei, who told me it had him back in the dojo within a day.


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