First, some fun facts I’ve researched to get the conversation going:
1-smooth muscle is present in connective tissue (three layers around muscle fibers, and appears in discs, lumbar fascia, etc.)
2-smooth muscle is largely affected by the Central Nervous System and the sympathetic/parasympathetic relationship
3-the sympathetic nervous system is largely affected by breathing rate
Deeper, slower breathing up-regulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which decreases muscular tone, and faster breathing tends to up-regulate our sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system, which creates increased muscular tone. While increased tone can be a solid survival mechanism when your life is on the line, it can also decrease motor control and movement efficiency (your brain isn’t concerned with efficiency of movement when it perceives that you are being chased by a bear, it’s just concerned with moving). When we get cold, we tend to increase our breathing rate, and this makes our muscles more rigid, decreases our motor control, and constricts our blood vessels to preserve heat and blood for our major organs (think about the last time you tried to type out a text message when you were watching a football game outdoors in November).
1-Hyperventilation occurs with rapid breathing, as large amounts of carbon dioxide are blown off from the body.
2-Hyperventilation is known to disrupt the flow of oxygen to muscles via the body’s mechanism of passive o2 transfer from hemoglobin to muscle tissues (which relies on a specific pH environment).
3-Normally, muscles release carbon dioxide (and lactic acid depending on the physiological system in use) when active, which creates a more acidic environment where hemoglobin is more likely to dump off extra (up to 10% more) oxygen molecules to keep them functional.
So, if pH increases in the blood (becomes more basic due to breathing off carbon dioxide), and hemoglobin hangs on to oxygen and won’t allow its passage to the muscle tissue, then rapid, uncontrolled breathing translates into increased fatigue and decreased efficiency of function.
Hyperventilation can cause not only muscle constriction and decreased blood flow to the muscles (and brain), it can also cause increased anxiety, encouragement of trigger points, heightened pain perception, increased speed of spinal reflexes, and hyper-excitability of the corticospinal tract (motor control to the body and limbs). While a few of these traits could be useful depending on the circumstances, if you are remaining in a hyperventilatory state, they could be a major problem, especially if you are moving under repetitive load, or trying to complete fine motor movements such as throwing a baseball).
Next post, we will have a short application to performance that will build off of the article you just read!
If you have any questions, feel free to let us know!
Owner Pathology Apparel
Chaitow L. Breathing pattern disorders, motor control, and low back pain. Journal of Osteopathic Medicine. 2004;7(1):33-40.
McGill SM. Low back exercises: prescription for the healthy back and when recovering from injury. In: Resources Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. 3rd ed. Indianapolis, Ind: American College of Sports Medicine. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins; 1998.