What is a breathing pattern disorder or dysfunctional breathing?

Breathing Pattern Disorders (BPD), also known as Dysfunctional Breathing, is an umbrella term that covers abnormal patterns of breathing. It can present many different ways with common BPDs, including:

  • Over breathing or hyperventilating - breathing faster or bigger breaths than normal

  • Mouth breathing - a loss of normal nasal breathing at rest

  • Upper chest breathing - the increased use of the accessory breathing muscles in the neck, chest and shoulder area instead of recruiting the main breathing muscle, the diaphragm and lower intercostals

  • Erratic breathing patterns with regular breath holding, sighing or yawning

How do I know if I have a breathing pattern disorder (BPD)?

When our breathing pattern becomes dysfunctional, this can result in a huge range of different symptoms.

You may be feeling short of breath or feel unable to get a full breath in. You may be

experiencing chest pain or tightness, or heart palpitations. You may feel increased anxiety, dizziness, tingling and pins and needles, increased neck, jaw or back pain and even reflux.

Often the symptoms of a BPD can feel frightening, especially when not well understood. Because the symptoms can be similar to other diagnoses, people will often be referred to different specialists, only to find normal test results and investigations. This is because a BPD can occur without any other underlying health conditions. 

However, it is important to note that a BPD is more common in certain population groups, such as asthmatics and those with COPD. Evidence suggests within the general population, 1 in 10 people have a BPD; however, it can be up to 30% of people who have asthma.

Why have I developed a BPD?

There is not one simple answer to this question, there is much variation from person to person, and often there are multiple factors playing a contributing role. However, that is our job to listen to your history, assess your breathing pattern and unpack what the likely causes have been and ascertain the right path for you when it comes to breathing pattern retraining. 

We will work with you to help you identify the relevant triggers for your breathing pattern disorder. In general, there has been a period where you have developed an abnormal breathing pattern, then with further time, your body learns this to be ‘normal’ and continues to breathe in this manner. As a result, the correct respiratory muscles are not being used, and they subsequently become weak and deconditioned from disuse; even the biochemistry in our body can change to adapt to the dysfunctional pattern. These changes often further reinforce and establish the incorrect pattern.

Unless picked up on and actively addressed with breathing pattern retraining, it is not uncommon for someone to live with a breathing pattern disorder for quite some time!

The good news is that breathing pattern disorders are well treated and managed with physiotherapy-led breathing pattern retraining programmes.

How can Breathing Works help treat BPDS?

Working with individuals to positively retrain their breathing patterns is exactly what we do! After a thorough initial assessment, we will help you understand the connection between poor breathing and your symptoms.

We start by retraining your breathing pattern in resting postures such as lying, sitting and standing positions. Learning to breathe well will also help achieve a deep state of relaxation which will often help people manage symptoms of anxiety, enhance recovery and promote quality sleep. Through this breathing pattern retraining process, you will become much more aware of how you breathe and will learn how to correct your own breathing pattern. With time and practice, it will move from being a very conscious practice initially to something you do more automatically.

We will also consider how you breathe with movement and activity, while talking and even while

working and typing. We may prescribe breathing exercises to reduce CO2 sensitivity, and if weakness in your inspiratory muscles is evident, we will set you up with a strengthening programme using POWERbreathe devices.

With the help of breathing pattern retraining programmes, you will be able to catch your breath properly, relax more easily and use your breathing effectively in your everyday life and activities. 

Talk to us now to discover how breathing pattern retraining can help you.

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