Next time you’re tucking into some tasty barbeque spare ribs, remember that your body has some spare ribs of its own!
On humans they’re called the intercostals.
These small muscles between the ribs help to raise the ribcage on inhalation (breathing in) and to lower the ribcage on exhalation (breathing out).
If you’re airways are narrowed because of asthma, then these little muscles will be working extra hard when you breathe in to allow the chest to expand and allow enough air into your lungs. As a result the intercostals can become tight and sore, making it even harder to breathe… it’s a vicious circle.
Massage of these muscles between the ribs needs to be careful and slow, but can really make a difference: easing the tension, lengthening out the muscles, and making the chest itself less tight.
Another muscle that’s used to help raise your ribcage to allow you to fill your lungs is the pectoralis minor.
Again, if you struggle to breathe because of asthma, then your pec minor is going to work extra hard to raise your ribs so that your chest cavity can expand enough for you to get enough air in.
The trouble is, the constant overworking means that pec minor becomes tight (a bit like the muscle-bound guys that you see in the gym)... this means that it can’t then fully contract and extend. It gets to the point where it can’t actually help much in raising your ribcage, so breathing becomes harder again.
Massage of the pec minor (called pec minor release) can help open up your chest. A word of warning, though, whilst it’s effective, it can also hurt a bit.
Finally, there are “finger-like” muscles at the side of your ribs called the serratus anterior. These also to help raise the chest to allow you to breathe in fully, pulling it out sideways and up.
Remedial massage can help to loosen the tight serratus anterior to allow your chest fully to expand and ease your breathing.
As a chronic asthma sufferer, over the years as your chest muscles become tighter through overworking, they effectively pull your shoulders forward, so often you’ll end up slouched.
Slouching actually makes breathing harder - it reduces the size of the chest cavity. It’s yet another vicious circle, with the effort to breathe causing your to slouch further, and slouching leading to having to work harder to try to fill the chest cavity, which is now smaller. And so on.
One of the most important things that remedial massage can do is to help you to release the muscles to help your posture so that you can “open up your chest”. You’ll also learn techniques to help improve the way you breathe.
Massage can’t treat the asthma itself, but it can treat the muscles that are so important to you in helping you to breathe.
Finally, if stress is one of the triggers for you, then remember that massage is proven to lower stress levels. See the previous blog posts that I’ve written about massage and relaxation.
So good remedial massage can help loosen your chest muscles to help your breathe more freely; it can help you with your posture to “open up” your chest for breathing; and it can help lower your stress levels and possibly reduce the triggers to an attack.
As ever, if you think I can help, please get in touch.