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What is it?

When we breathe it should:

  • Be relaxed
  • Come from your lower lungs
  • Involve no physical effort or thought
  • Adjust appropriate to the level of activity we are undertaking.

Sometimes our breathing pattern can alter. This can be triggered by stress, pain, underlying lung disease or infection. Dysfunctional breathing pattern or breathing pattern disorders can affect anyone, at any age and with any physical ability. When our breathing pattern is dysfunctional we no longer breathe as effectively which can cause a range of problems.


  • Breathlessness after light exertion
  • Unable to take a big breath in or ‘gasping’
  • Chest, neck and thoracic pain
  • Stomach cramps
  • Palpitations
  • Frequent yawning / sighing / throat clearing
  • Panic attacks
  • Reduced physical activity or exercise capacity.


There are a few ways that dysfunctional breathing patterns can be diagnosed. If you think you may have a breathing pattern disorder, then your physiotherapist can do an assessment to look at whether you are breathing effectively. We will look at your rate, depth and pattern of breathing, discuss your symptoms and use specialised questionnaires to identify your symptoms. A detailed history of your symptoms and when they are a problem can be helpful and investigations such as lung function testing can also support a diagnosis.


The main treatment for dysfunction breathing is physiotherapy to correct your pattern. If left untreated the condition risks becoming a chronic problem and symptoms may worsen.

After a thorough assessment, a treatment program will be devised tailored to your individual problems.

This programme may include:

  • Education and advice regarding your possible trigger
  • Education and advice regarding your pattern of breathing.
  • Breathing control techniques
  • Breathing control when exercising
  • Breathing control when talking
  • Mechanical work to address any stiffness or pain
  • Relaxation.

A typical course of therapy is between 4 – 6 sessions, however, this can vary depending on the individual.

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