Campaigning For Healthier Ribs and Better Breathing

With all the media hype about Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton’s walking pneumonia, I felt the need to discuss how breathing, and our ribs, affect certain movements and even our speech!

When reported recently that Hillary Clinton was suffering from walking pneumonia, I had many patients asking me what it was, and how it affected the candidate. Walking pneumonia typically occurs as a result of a lung infection from a bacterial microorganism called Mycoplasma pneumoniae, and of all the types of pneumonia one can contract, it is the least worrisome. Quite often, people who have walking pneumonia don’t even realize they have it and feel like they just have a bad cold. They are rarely bedridden and are able to continue their daily activities feeling a bit “under the weather.

stuck ribs and better breathingThis conversation brings up the topic of breathing, however, and when we think about the act of breathing, it’s important to note the correlation between our ribs and taking a breath. Healthy rib movement is essential, not only for breathing, but for everyday movements such as lifting your arms overhead, or twisting. When an illness like pneumonia, or bronchitis, causes coughing or shallow breathing, the muscles surrounding our chest get strained. Our ribs then can become compromised, making certain movements painful. Breathing and speech can also become altered – certainly not what a political candidate wanting to portray strength and power during speeches wants to deal with.

As the Political Campaigns Roll On- So Do The Ribs!

Different movements require your ribs to roll certain ways. Straightening up, and standing tall to deliver a speech, for example, requires the ribs to move backward. Bending over, or leaning in, to shake hands with voters requires the ribs to move forward. Twisting at the waist to turn and greet voters causes the ribs to rotate in two directions at once. For example, turning the shoulders to the left causes the ribs on the right side to rotate inward and the ribs on the left to rotate outward (and vice versa). Ribs also move in a pumping motion, like a bucket handle, to allow the chest to move in and out as you breathe.

Shallow breathing can cause the muscles around the lower ribs to tighten up. This can cause ribs to “get stuck” out of their proper (aka neutral) alignment. Certain muscles shorten or lengthen to adapt to this new posture, which prevents the muscles from doing their job efficiently. Voice Projection during a speech may be affected as the rib expansion gets compromised. A jarring cough can compromise rib motion in the same way that a harsh hit in football, or an awkward reach for an object on a high shelf can. Endurance may become affected as the ability to take a deeper breath becomes inhibited by tight muscles.

Stuck Ribs and Shallow Breathing Don’t Rock My Vote

Stuck ribs also reduce lung capacity, which can have a big impact on public speaking or voice projection, for that matter. If your ribs aren’t moving properly, you can’t take deep breaths. When we take air into our lungs, the air vibrates as we speak. This produces a power to our voice. Too shallow of an inhale doesn’t allow the diaphragm (a muscle just under your rib cage) to efficiently move air into our lungs. This typically prevents the speaker from sustaining strong speech.

Studies also show that the body’s response to acute stress — sometimes known as the fight-or-flight response — slows down when a person breathes deeply, helping you feel calmer. Injured ribs interfere with deep breathing can therefore inhibit the much needed de-stressing on the campaign trail.

Not to forget, insufficient breathing can also lead to a decrease in the oxygen supply to your muscles, which will leave you feeling sapped of energy.

Campaigning For Healthier Ribs and Better Breathing

A good rehabilitation program can help fix ribs that get stuck out of alignment and help you promote better breathing.  The goal of the following exercises is to strengthen and loosen up the many muscles that affect the ribs, such as the pectorals, serrati, and abdominals.

While a full-blown strengthening and flexibility program is recommended, these at-home exercises can help get you started:

            Belly Breathing

  1. Lie with your back flat on the mat with knees bent and feet flat
  2. Place your hands on your lower ribs
  3. Place tongue up and slightly behind your upper front teeth as if to make the “N” sound as in “NO”
  4. Take a deep breath in through your nose trying to raise the ribs into your hands.  Breathe in for 4 seconds.
  5. Hold breath for 7 seconds.
  6. Now breathe out for 8 seconds through your mouth and breathe out 5 seconds.  Do 4 repetitions

Side stretch

  1. Stand up tall with arms overhead
  2. Lean to one side. Breathe for an added stretch.
  3. Hold 30 seconds. Do 2 repetitions on each side

Side twist on all fours

  1. Get on all fours
  2. Lift your L arm sideways and up to the ceiling.
  3. Turn your head to look at your hand. Breathe!
  4. Hold 5 seconds repeat on other side. Do 5 times.

As always, be sure to check with a physician prior to beginning an exercise program.

Image of rib cage courtesy of renjith krishnan at

AmyMcGorry Physical TherapistAmy McGorry, PT, DPT MTC, Received her Bachelor’s of Science in physical therapy from SUNY Stony Brook in 1991 and earned her doctoral degree in physical therapy from the University of St. Augustine in 2011. In 2005 Amy, completed an advanced certification in Orthopedic Manual Joint Manipulation from the University of St. Augustine. In addition to her clinical skills, Dr. McGorry is a freelance news reporter for Channel 12 and contributes medical articles, short videos and slideshows to health and wellness websites.