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The Diaphragm:

More Than Just a Breath of Fresh Air

By Maria Scalone, State Licensed and Board Certified Massage Therapist

Why do we treat this muscle series: The Diaphragm
Hello Everyone , It’s Maria, it’s time for another.

Today I would like to talk about the Diaphragm.
What is the Diaphragm?
What does the Diaphragm do?
Why do we treat the Diaphragm?


The Diaphragm (shown in green) is a dome shaped muscle, located in the torso that separates thoracic and abdominal cavities. This all important muscle lives on the posterior aspect of the xiphoid process. The internal surfaces of lower costal cartilages and ribs 7-12. The medial and lateral arcuate ligaments (lumbocostal arches), The bodies of vertebrae L1-L3 (+intervertebral discs) and the anterior longitudinal ligament connects to the Central tendon of diaphragm.

The diaphragm is one of the main muscles of respiration (breathing). When the muscle fibers contract, the diaphragm is flattened. This increases the volume of the thoracic cavity vertically, which decreases intrapulmonary pressure, and air enters the lungs. When the diaphragm relaxes, thoracic volume decreases, intrapulmonary pressure increases, and air flows out of the lungs.

When the diaphragm works with the anterolateral abdominal muscles, diaphragm contraction assists in increasing intra-abdominal pressure. This is needed in actions such as expelling vomit, defecation, urination, and childbirth. Another function of the diaphragm is to provide a passageway for certain structures from the thorax to the abdomen (inferior vena cava, esophagus, and aorta) Poor stress management, poor posture and/or mechanical dysfunction in the chest can cause the diaphragm to lock up in the lower position. This creates a feeling of restriction and can sometimes make you feel like you can get a full breath in. Long term this can lead to back aches, digestive problems, feeling of tired legs or headaches. Once the diaphragm is released, it can begin to participate harmoniously with the respiratory movement and allow the body to recover its maximum lung capacity.

Healthy breathing can relax the nervous system, improve sleep, reduce the effects of stress on the body and allow greater focus. A diaphragm release also helps to restore better posture and improve digestion. We use pillowcases or towels to drape our clients to assure privacy while doing any diaphragm and/or abdominal work. Reasons to not treat the diaphragm would be illness, wounds or skin problems, and a history of cardiac disorders.