Relaxation: Diaphragm Breathing Handout

Relaxation: Diaphragm Breathing Handout


When we have pain or become stressed we can develop a rapid or shallow breathing pattern. This breathing pattern can increase tension in the neck, chest, and shoulders. Overtime, this increased tension can lead to trigger point formations which can produce specific pain patterns.


When trigger points become active they can cause referral pain. Typically, these patterns travel up the neck, and above, around, and along the sides of the head. These pain patterns are often the source of headaches and migraines. Practicing diaphragmatic breathing strategies can decrease the activity and intensity of these trigger points and associated pain patterns. Diaphragmatic breathing is the body’s pain control center which can directly change the chemical-hormone response to stress. Deep breathing can increase the release of natural opiates (morphine and serotonin). It’s important to note belly breathing is NOT diaphragmatic breathing.


  • Lie on your back, with your feet up on a chair or couch. Scoot close to the edge of the chair or couch. Your knees should be relatively directly over your hips. 
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Take an easy breath in through your nose. Imagine directing the air down into the back of your throat then down into your belly. 
  • As you breathe in your belly should raise toward the ceiling slightly. Do not force the air; your breath should be smooth and comfortable. 
  • The amount of time it takes you to breathe out should be 3-5 times longer then what it took you to breathe in. 
  • As you get better in this position, practice your breathing exercise often and in other positions (ie sitting, standing, squatting). 
  • Practice at least 5-10 minutes per day. If possible, start practicing in stressful situations as well. It’s just as important to breath well during happy situations as it is in frustrating situations.



Frownfelter D, Dean E. Principles and Practice of Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapy. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 1996.
Kolar P, Sulc J, Kyncl M, et al. Postural function of the diaphragm in persons with and without chronic low back pain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2012;42:352-362.



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