Proper Breathing – The Cure for Pain & Stress?

What do you think of when you visualize someone who is really stressed out? It sure seems like some people are wound tightly these days. I have had my own issues with stress. I’m sure you have too. I find myself talking more and more with my patients about the effects of stress and how beneficial diaphragmatic breathing and proper nutrition can be.  We will discuss nutrition in an upcoming post. You also need to be aware of other possible manifestations of stress like increased muscle tone, rapid heart rate, palpitations, increased blood pressure, GI distress, mood swings, loss of appetite, and sleep disturbances to name just a few. These symptoms make living a happy, relaxed and “normal” life much more difficult.

So what about the relationship between stress and breathing? Breathing occurs at a very primal level. If you don’t breathe, you don’t live! Your body will do whatever it takes to draw air into the lungs. Instead of using the diaphragm, it may recruit other accessory muscles in your neck or low back. This pattern reinforces poor posture and causes impaired flexibility which can promote shallow, ineffective breathing. It prevents the ability to exhale fully and to perform a proper, full diaphragmatic breath. Lets review what that means.

First of all, when performing a diaphragmatic breath, your belly should expand outward. This is due to the downward movement of your diaphragm as you inhale. Secondly, your lower ribcage should expand. Thirdly, your upper ribcage will expand during a maximal inhalation. Your ribcage should expand as a unit. It should NOT elevate. Movement of your ribcage upward, shoulder shrugging, or contraction of your neck muscles are all signs of faulty breathing patterns. Remember that slouched sitting and forward head posture encourages shallow breathing and prevents full, complete expansion of your ribcage. We discussed breathing pattern disorders in relation to CORE activation during my last post and video demonstration. Here it is in case you missed it:



So what does the research say about the link between pain and breathing disorders?  A very interesting phenomenon is the prevalence of pain syndromes that are NOT caused by a specific organic illness. Katon & Walker (1998) noted that patients with the most common physical symptoms (i.e. abdominal pain, chest pain, headache, back pain), are responsible for half of all primary care visits in the USA, and yet only 10%–15% of these are found to be caused by organic illness! All these symptoms are well recognized as capable of being the result of breathing pattern disorders.

Perri and Holford (2004) evaluated 111 patients attending a chiropractic pain clinic and found 56.4% demonstrated faulty breathing on relaxed inhalation, increasing to 75% when taking a deep breath. 87% reported a history of various musculoskeletal pain problems. Based on this population, they observe that: “Chances are 3 in 4 that new patients seen today will have faulty breathing patterns.”

So what does the research say about the effects of breathing exercises on stress? Remember, stress reactions are controlled by our autonomic nervous system i.e. sympathetic and parasympathetic. Fight or flight?  In Pal and colleagues, breathing exercises were shown to enhance the parasympathetic (inhibitory or calming) effects and decrease the sympathetic (excitatory) effects of muscles and nerves. They improve respiratory and cardiovascular function and improve both physical and mental health. Convinced yet?

So how do you begin breathing exercises?The first step is understanding that the relaxation response has to be relearned. You need to learn how to identify and turn off the stress response. As stated by Kabat-Zinn, “you need to learn how to replace negative thoughts and physical tension with regular practice of ‘calm stillness of mind and body’ “. Buddha is in the house! The next step is to schedule regular daily practice. You need to invest 10-15 minutes at least one time every day. According to Leon Chaitow, we need to “restore an energy-efficient, low chest, nose-breathing pattern with a relaxed pause at the end of exhalation”. He calls it “low slow nose breathing”. Initially, lay comfortably supported by pillows in a quiet room. Progress to sitting once a positive outcome is achieved in lying. You need to reinforce proper posture at home, work, and car and realize that breathing and relaxation techniques only help eliminate the symptoms, not the causes of stress. Be honest about making realistic lifestyle changes. The video below demonstrates a method that uses both breathing and physical relaxation techniques.


Remember that breathing drives everything that happens, both good and bad, throughout our entire bodies. So breathe right to live right!!


Plantar Fasciitis & Foot Orthotics

Yes. We treat a lot of plantar fasciitis. There is a lot of foot pain out there. While performing a literature review of heel pain in 2005 (follow this link to READ MORE), I made reference to several articles about the prevalence of heel pain. One United States study estimated that one million patient visits each year are for the diagnosis and treatment of plantar heel pain. This disorder appears in the sedentary and geriatric population, it makes up one quarter of all foot injuries in runners, and is the reason for 8% of all injuries to people participating in sports. As many of you know, all that we do regarding foot orthotic fabrication and physical therapy is with good, evidence-based reason. I fabricate custom foot orthotics based on sound biomechanical principles and evidence-based research. Patients are always asking me “so how will foot orthotics help my plantar fasciitis?” Here is the answer! I have included both a clinical description as well as a more basic description in the video. This will allow you to refer your doctor and/or PT as well as a relative who may ask WHY or HOW we made your foot orthotics. I have included references for several articles that have had a profound influence on my treatment and fabrication philosophy regarding plantar fasciitis.  I would like to share my insights with you.

It has been my experience that positive results can be achieved much more quickly for cases of plantar fasciitis using the combination of softer materials to cushion the foot in combination with stiffer, denser materials to redistribute pressures on the foot. My direct molding techniques produce a total contact orthotic which reduces weight bearing pressure on both the heel and forefoot.  These findings for total contact orthoses have been confirmed by both Mueller et al10,11 and Ki et al12. As you can see from my samples on the video, I utilize softer materials as a top layer with the addition of a heel pad on the bottom.  I reinforce the arch in order to redistribute pressures up against the talonavicular joint (or midfoot).  I utilize a forefoot valgus post (higher on the outside of the forefoot) with a slight reverse Morton extension (ledge under toes 2-5) in order to plantar flex the first ray (big toe lower than the other four toes) and unload both the fascia and 1st MTP joint (big toe joint)  As I tell my patients, the foot orthotic is only as good as the shoe you put around it. Our best results with the over-pronating foot are achieved via the combination of motion control shoes and custom orthoses.

In regards to prefabricated orthotics such as ALine, it is one-shape-fits-all and only utilizes rearfoot posting “to help align the leg from foot to hip” per the website. The concept of rearfoot posting for biomechanical control is a much debated topic in the literature. Forefoot modifications are not an option. It is also a very rigid material against a painful heel.  It has been my experience that prefabs such as ALine or Powerstep are a good option for the younger, athletic patient.

Don’t forget, our custom foot orthotics range in price from $120 to $165. I direct mold, fabricate, educate and issue in one hour!  All adjustments included. Our WalkWell guarantee since 1997!!

Research findings continued……

Research done by Kogler1,2,3 et al has been instrumental in determining the appropriate type of rearfoot and/or forefoot posting for foot orthotics for plantar fasciitis. Kogler showed that rearfoot posting had little effect on plantar fascia strain, forefoot varus posting increased the stress, and forefoot valgus posting actually decreased the strain.  Kogler concluded that foot orthotics which raised the talonavicular joint and prevented dorsiflexion of the first ray were most effective in reducing the strain on the central band of the plantar fascia. I recently made orthotics for a patient who said her doctor issued bilateral heel lifts “to take the stress off of the fascia”.  Kogler actually showed no change in plantar fascia strain using heel lifts.  However, heel lifts have been shown by Trepman et al4 in 2000 to decrease the compressive forces in the tarsal tunnel.  Benno Nigg5, a researcher in Canada, has also published over 200 articles on biomechanics.  He has stated that based on his results, custom foot orthotics, on average, control only 2-3 degrees of motion.  This would be his kinematic results, however, he has done a lot of enlightening research on the kinetic effects of foot orthotics. A little bedtime reading for you!

Paul Scherer6,7,DPM has published several articles on the effects of custom orthotics on the 1st MTP joint. The concept of maintaining the first ray in a plantar flexed position unloads both the 1st MTP joint as well as the plantar fascia. Howard Dananberg8,DPM has also written several articles on this topic. Doug Richie9,DPM has been a great resource for the evidence behind the treatment of plantar fasciitis as well as posterior tibialis dysfunction.  You may have heard of the Richie brace.  Dr Richie states that the “most effective foot orthotic for plantar fasciitis is one that hugs against the navicular and flares away from (or plantar flexes) the first ray.”

1.Kogler, G. F.; Solomonidis, S. E.; and Paul, J. P.: Biomechanics of longitudinal arch support mechanisms in foot orthoses and their effect on plantar aponeurosis strain. Clin. Biomech., 11: 243-252, 1996.

2.Kogler GF, Veer FB, Solomonidis SE, et al. The influence of medial and lateral placement of   wedges on loading the plantar aponeurosis, An in vitro study. J Bone and Joint Surg Am. 81:1403-1413, 1999

3.Kogler GF, Veer FB, Verhulst SJ, Solomonidis SE, Paul JP.

The effect of heel elevation on strain within the plantar aponeurosis: in vitro study.

Foot Ankle Int. 2001 May;22(5):433-9.

4.Trepman E, Kadel NJ: Effect of foot and ankle position on tarsal tunnel compartment pressure. Foot Ankle Int 20(11):721, 2000

5.Nigg, B. Biomechanics of Sport Shoes. 2011

6.Scherer PR, Sanders J, Eldredge, DE, et al. Effect of functional foot orthoses on first metatarsophalangeal joint dorsiflexion in stance and gait. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc 2006;96(6):474-481.

7.Scherer,P. Recent Advances in Orthotic Therapy. 2011

8.Dananberg HJ. Functional hallux limitus and its relationship to gait efficiency. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc. 1986; 76(11):648-52

9.Richie,D. Offloading the plantar fascia: What you should know. Podiatry Today, Vol 18. Issue 11, Nov 2005.

10.Mueller MJ, Hastings M, Commean PK, et al. Forefoot structural predictors of plantar pressures during walking in people with diabetes and peripheral neuropathy. J Biomech 2003;36(7):1009-1017.

11.Mueller MJ, Lott DJ, Hastings MK, et al. Efficacy and mechanism of orthotic devices to unload metatarsal heads in people with diabetes and a history of plantar ulcers. Phys Ther 2006;86(6):833-842.

12.Ki SW, Leung AK, Li AN. Comparison of plantar pressure distribution patterns between foot orthoses provided by the CAD-CAM and foam impression methods. Prosthet Orthot Int 2008;32(3):356-362.

SI Joint Pain & Dysfunction. Do U Have It?

The sacroiliac or SI joint is the articulation between the bone at the base of the spine called the sacrum and the bones on both sides of the pelvis called the ilium. Refer to the picture below.

Over 22 years of physical therapy, I have treated many patients with low back and buttock pain who were diagnosed with an SI joint dysfunction. The difficulty with diagnosing an SI joint dysfunction is that the SI joint has no specific distribution pattern of pain.  Pain directly over the SI joint does not necessarily mean that the joint itself is involved. SI joint pain can very often be referred pain from other structures such as the disc, nerve root, or facet joints of the lumbar spine. Many physical therapists or physicians attempt to diagnose an SI joint dysfunction through palpation of bony landmarks as well as assessment of SI joint mobility. There is only a very small amount of motion in the SI joint i.e. 2-3 mm or 2-3° of gliding or rotation thereby making an accurate diagnosis very difficult. In addition, evidence based research refutes the reliability and validity of accurately assessing bony landmarks and SI joint mobility. McGrath et al has published an article, entitled Palpation of the sacroiliac joint: an anatomical and sensory challenge in which the concept of SI joint palpation is scrutinized. Freburger and Riddle performed a literature review looking at our ability to perform SI joint motion testing. They found poor inter-tester reliability, low sensitivity, and low specificity in several commonly performed tests. Inter-rater reliability is essentially the ability for multiple practitioners to come to the same diagnostic conclusion. If you have multiple individuals perform the same test, the results should be the same. Riddle and Freburger in another study noted that the ability to detect positional faults of the SI joint also has poor reliability. At present, the only acceptable method of confirming or excluding a diagnosis of a symptomatic SI joint is a fluoroscope guided intra-articular anesthetic block ie an injection directly into the SI joint. (Laslett et al) So how can I, as your physical therapist, assist in the diagnosis of an SI joint dysfunction?  The answer: SI joint provocation tests!

Two recent studies by Laslett et al and Van der Wurff et al have demonstrated that there isn’t just one key or ideal SI joint provocation test. However, by performing several tests together, you can increase your sensitivity and specificity of detecting an SI joint dysfunction. Both studies reported that the accuracy of detecting SI joint dysfunction is increased if least 3 of the 5 tests are positive. Furthermore, if all 5 tests are negative, you can likely look at structures other that the SI joint. Van der Wurff et al reported that if at least 3/5 of these tests were positive, there was 85% sensitivity and 79% specificity for detecting the SI joint as the source of pain.  Interestingly, another study by Kokmeyer et al agreed with the previous findings, but also noted that the thigh trust test alone was almost as good at detecting SI joint dysfunction as the entire series performed together.

Combining the two studies, there are 5 provocation tests to perform when attempting to diagnose SI joint pain:

  1. Thigh thrust/Femoral Shear test
  2. SI Distraction Test
  3. SI Compression Test
  4. Gaenslen’s Test
  5. FABER / Patrick’s test

The following video will demonstrate these tests. I would like to thank Mike Reinold, PT for his blog information that was used to complete this explanation of SI Joint dysfunction.  Check out the video below!!

CORRECTION:  I would like to clarify the SI distraction test as described in Laslett. I believe that he considers the direct posterior shear of the innominates as a distractive force of the ilium away from the sacrum. I initially interpreted this test as a compression of the SI joint via a distraction of the ASIS’s. I guess it depends on HOW you apply the force to the ASIS’s.  Also, the sidelying “compression” test needs to be performed in a straight, linear fashion as well in order to compress the SI joint. It is important to place a towel roll under the lumbar spine in women in order to prevent sidebending stress t the lumbar spine. In OMT, we use the sidelying position to “distract” the SI joint using more of a rotational force on the lateral edge of the ilium in order to “open up” and distract the SI to get a feel for joint play. As you can see, these tests are not definitive for exactly HOW they stress the joint but they are specific for a stressing maneuver TO the SI joint.