A muscle spasm is a sudden, forceful and involuntary contraction of one or more muscles. A muscle spasm occurs from an abnormally sustained muscle contraction and is very painful. Muscle spasms can occur in any smooth or skeletal muscle within the body. Skeletal muscle spasms occur in the muscles responsible for voluntary movement, locomotion and upright posture. Skeletal muscles require adequate levels of oxygen, glucose, water and electrolytes, supplied by the bloodstream, to function effectively. These muscle spasms may result from muscle injury or overuse and occur from sudden or unexpected movements, sustained and repetitive postures, underlying anatomical problems or if a person has not warmed up adequately prior to exercise. Muscle spasms can occur throughout the entire body.
What Is A Diaphragm?
The diaphragm is the primary muscle used in respiration, which is the process of breathing. This thin, dome-shaped skeletal muscle sits at the base of the chest, just below the lungs and heart, and separates the abdomen from the chest. It contracts continually as you breathe in and out; flattening when you inhale and relaxing as you exhale, creating a vacuum effect that pulls air in and out of the lungs. The phrenic nerve, which runs from the neck to the diaphragm, controls the movement of the diaphragm.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Diaphragm Spasm?
Depending on the cause of the diaphragm spasm, other symptoms may also be present. These can include:
- Tightness in the chest
- Pain in the chest, abdomen, or back
- A persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
- Diaphragm paralysis
- Difficulty swallowing
These symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the underlying cause.
What Causes Diaphragm Muscle Spasms?
A diaphragmatic spasm or cramp can cause shortness of breath and chest pain that may be mistaken for a heart attack. Some people experience increased sweating and anxiety during a diaphragm spasm, while others describe feeling like they can’t take a full breath. During a spasm, the diaphragm doesn’t rise back up after exhalation. This inflates the lungs, causing the diaphragm to tighten. This can also cause a cramping sensation in the chest. If you overexert your diaphragm during exercise, it may start to spasm. This type of spasm occurs when people fail to warm up properly or over-exert themselves. Diaphragm spasms which occur during vigorous exercise are often referred to as a ‘side stitch’. Side stitches, or cramping in the ribcage, sometimes occur when you first begin exercise training or when that training becomes more intense. For some people, drinking juice or eating right before intense exercise can increase the chances of side stiches. When the spasm is chronic, it might be due to exercise-induced bronchospasm, and you may also experience:
- Chest pain and tightness
- Shortness of breath
- A dry cough
How Are Diaphragm Spasms Treated?
Diaphragm spasms usually go away on their own within a few hours or days, however, if you are experiencing chronic diaphragmatic spasm a visit to your GP or soft tissue occupational therapist may help to alleviate the symptoms and spasm.
Read on to find out the Top 2 Best Ways To Relieve Diaphragm Spasm in the meantime…
2) Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing is intended to help you use the diaphragm correctly while breathing to:
- Strengthen the diaphragm
- Decrease the work of breathing by slowing your breathing rate
- Decrease oxygen demand
- Use less effort and energy to breathe
- Reduce diaphragmatic muscle spasm
Diaphragmatic breathing technique
Lie on your back on a flat surface or in bed, with your knees bent and your head supported. You can use a pillow under your knees to support your legs. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.
When you first learn the diaphragmatic breathing technique, it may be easier for you to follow the instructions lying down, as shown above. As you gain more practice, you can try the diaphragmatic breathing technique while sitting in a chair.
To perform this exercise while sitting in a chair:
- Sit comfortably, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head and neck relaxed.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
- Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.
You may notice an increased effort will be needed to use the diaphragm correctly. At first, you’ll probably get tired while doing this exercise. But keep at it, because with continued practice, diaphragmatic breathing will become easy and automatic.
It is recommended you practice this exercise 5-10 minutes about 3-4 times per day, before gradually increasing the amount of time you spend doing this exercise.
1) Soft Tissue Occupational Therapy
A visit to a Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist can assist in the treatment of diaphragm muscle spasm. A soft tissue occupational therapist will conduct an assessment to determine the cause of the spasm and then provide hands-on neuromuscular techniques, such as trigger point therapy and/or myofascial release to improve the functioning of the muscle and improve breathing capacity. A hands-on approach to treatment can help to resolve muscle spasming and assist in increasing circulation of fresh, healthy blood towards an area increasing drainage of unhealthy, toxic fluid away from the area. This increased nutrition and removal of toxins from the spasmed tissue enhances the body’s natural healing response and speeds up recovery. Soft tissue occupational therapists will also work to recommend and administer diaphragmatic breathing programs to assist in alleviating symptoms and prevent recurring diaphragm spasm. An occupational therapist will also explore lifestyle factors which may be contributing to your diaphragm spasm and set up a personalized treatment plan that reduces your chance of reoccurrence.
At Infused Health our highly trained Soft Tissue Occupational Therapists will use a hands on approach to help treat your injuries, conditions or any concerns you may have. You can make an appointment today by calling 0401 876 623.
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