New research shows that our diaphragm doesn’t just help us breathe – it also stops us falling over

Until now it was thought that only three systems were responsible for keeping balance – the diaphragm muscle is the fourth, say the researchers. Janusz Kocjan/Facebook

Researchers have found a new function of the diaphragm - apart from helping draw air into the lungs, it is crucial to maintaining balance.

By examining the changes of pressure in our abdominal cavity, which occur after chest surgeries and tumor removal, the researchers from the Medical University of Silesia in Katowice observed difficulties the patients had in keeping their balance. 

This led them to look for the correlation between the respiratory system and the ability to keep the body straight. 

Janusz Kocjan MD, from the Department of Thoracic Surgery at the Medical University of Silesia told PAP: “The starting point was, first of all, that the diaphragm provides stabilization for the lumbar spine where the center of gravity of the human body is located. We assumed that if we have adequate stabilization within the central part of the body, it affects the global balance and how a human maintains vertical position of the body.”

The results of the research led to the discovery of the main respiratory muscle’s previously unknown function. They found out, that the better the mobility of the diaphragm during normal breathing and the deep taking in of air, the lesser the lack of balance in a standing position. In other words, proper functioning of the diaphragm helps to maintain the static balance of the human body.

Janusz Kocjan MD, from the Department of Thoracic Surgery at the Medical University of Silesia said 'We assumed that if we have adequate stabilization within the central part of the body, it affects the global balance and how a human maintains vertical position of the body.'Janusz Kocjan/Facebook

Until now, it was believed that only three systems were responsible for keeping balance: the visual (which detects motion and gravity and initiates movements to maintain balance and orientation), the vestibular (detects motion and gravity and initiates movements to maintain balance and orientation) and the proprioceptive systems (responsible for sensing touch, temperature, posture, limb position, and more).

"To this, we are adding the diaphragm muscle. This is the fourth element that is responsible for maintaining balance," Kocjan said.

The discovery has very practical application and will help with treating people with different sorts of equilibrium disorders, especially those over 65-years old, when the affliction becomes more common. 

Kocjan’s team will now test how breathing exercises can become an effective rehabilitation technique.