The Most Important Yet Most Neglected Muscle of The Body Part 2: Diaphragmatic (Core) Stabilization

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Have you ever wondered what it means when a trainer, therapist, or instructor asks you to “brace,” “flex” or “tighten up” your core? More importantly, are you doing it right and are you doing it “automatically” prior to and during normal movements and exercise?

This cue is given to help you create a stable core. The key to a strong, stable core and body is the ability to create pressure within the abdomen, or intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). IAP is a fundamental mechanism for you to initiate, control or even prevent movement. The amount of IAP you create is dependent on what you are doing at any given time. If you are sitting in your car on your way to work, IAP will be minimal. If you are lifting a 100 pound object off the floor, IAP will be greatly elevated. The amount of IAP is constantly regulated to match whatever movement or lifting task that you are performing.

Intra-abdominal pressure (IAP)

Want to feel IAP? Cough or make a “CH” sound. Can you feel the pressure build inside your abdomen? This is what needs to occur automatically to keep your core and spine stable to give you strength and prevent spinal injury.

How Do We Generate IAP?

The core is like a cylinder of muscles. At the top is the diaphragm, the surrounding wall consists of the abdominals and multifidus (along the spine). The bottom consists of the muscles of the pelvic floor. PRIOR TO ANY MOVEMENT, the diaphragm contracts and pushes downward towards the abdomen. At the same time, the entire abdominal wall and muscles of the pelvic floor expand, eccentrically contract and “tighten up.” This compresses all of the contents of the abdomen which creates IAP. IT IS IAP THAT GIVES US STRENGTH, STABILIZES OUR CORE AND PROTECTS OUR SPINE FROM INJURY.

What Happens If We Can’t Generate and Maintain IAP?

Lumbar Extension Stabilization Strategy

Many of us lose the ability to generate and maintain IAP because of past physical or emotional trauma, pain, injuries, etc. The diaphragm is often one of the first muscles to become dysfunctional. Portions of the muscle become “shut down” and it does not push down like it did before. The diaphragm, abdominal and pelvic floor muscles get out of sync, uncoordinated and IAP is diminished. Our only option is to compensate by adopting a lumbar extension stabilization strategy. We tighten up our low back muscles causing it to arch too much to create some semblance of core and spine stability. Unfortunately, this is not an effective long-term solution to the IAP problem. If this problem persists for too long, back muscles become tight, overused and painful, spinal discs can become injured and lower back pain eventually develops. Hip and shoulder joints also become secondary areas of abuse and wear and tear.


This is one of the major topics we will cover at our workshop on October 18th. We will be doing an exercise class called The Art of Breathing and Core Stabilization at Equilibrium Personal Training Studio in Palatine. Join us for a fun and exciting class to learn if your diaphragm is working properly. We will also be performing the most effective exercises to correct and improve breathing and core strength.

Details and Registration





The Most Important Yet Most Neglected Muscle of The Body Part 1: Diaphragmatic Breathing

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Right now, as you start reading this article, pay attention to your breathing. Are you breathing more in your abdomen or more in your chest? If you are unsure, place one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest. Which hand is moving more? If you are breathing more in your chest, your diaphragm muscle is not working properly.

Normal Inhalation: Diaphragm pulls down, abdomen expands 360 degrees

Functions of The Diaphragm

The diaphragm has two functions. One is breathing and the other is core stabilization, which we will discuss in Part 2. The diaphragm is a dome-shaped, paper thin muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen. It attaches to the bottom of the lungs and its outer edges attach to the lowest ribs and spine. When we inhale, the muscle contracts and pulls downward toward the abdomen causing it to expand outward. This creates a negative vacuum in the lungs and they fill with air. When we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes, it moves back up and we let air out.

Under normal conditions, the entire diaphragm muscle is involved in respiration and the entire abdomen expands 360 degrees like a balloon filling with air. Our bodies are getting sufficient oxygen and all is well.

Abnormal Inhalation
Chest and Diaphragm Lift up, Abdomen Pulls In

Consequences of a Dysfunctional Diaphragm

It is very common for the diaphragm to become dysfunctional and not work properly. This can be due to physical or emotional trauma, pain, etc. Portions of the muscle become “shut down” and it does not pull down like it did before. The body compensates by using other muscles to lift the chest up in order to get oxygen. Neck and shoulder muscles such as the trapezius, scalenes, sternocleidomastoid, pectorals and others become overused, tight and painful. Chest breathing can have some painful consequences, including neck and shoulder pain, headaches, and back pain.

The Art of Breathing and Core Stabilization

On October 18th, we will be doing an exercise class called The Art of Breathing and Core Stabilization at Equilibrium Personal Training Studio in Palatine. Join us for a fun and exciting class to learn if your diaphragm is working properly. We will also be teaching the most effective exercises to correct and improve breathing and core strength. Details and Signup










Why You Should Not Let Your Vitamin D Go Low

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Vitamin D season is now officially over in the midwest. From September to April the sun is so low in the sky that the UVB rays (the ones that make vitamin D in our skin) simply bounce off the earth’s atmosphere. Blood vitamin D levels drop substantially if you do not take a D3 supplement throughout the winter. This can even happen in summer if you do not get enough sun exposure a few days a week. This will increase the probability of your chances of developing some of the most prevalent diseases that plague us.
Most labs and physicians say if your blood vitamin D levels are above 30, you’re good. But vitamin D research shows higher is better (see chart). If it is 30, it will help prevent heart disease, but not cancer. You need to get your D levels above 50 or even 60. I recommend taking 5,000-10,000 of D3 daily for adults. Ask you doctor to test your vitamin D and take the right amount to get in the 50-80 range. Take your “D” and stay healthy, everyone!


Power-Packed Superfood Breakfast Smoothie

This is a smoothie I eat everyday for breakfast. It is packed with superfoods that fight cancer and it provides long-lasting energy until lunchtime. It is quick to make and you can take it on-the-go!

1 and 1/2 cups filtered water

1 scoop protein powder  (I use NOW Foods Pea Protein Powder. It is important to avoid those with artificial sweeteners

1 handful raw almonds, walnuts, or other nuts.  Activated nuts are better (see below)

1 handful kale, spinach or other “greens”

1 tablespoon raw cacao or cocoa powder

A few dashes of turmeric, ginger and cinnamon (optional)

1/2-1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries 

1 banana

1 teaspoon of raw honey (optional, if you prefer it a little sweeter)

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Additional Notes:  You can use any fruit you like in this recipe. If you like your smoothie thicker, use less water. If you like it thinner, use more water.

Activated Nuts:  If you want an even more nutritious nut in your smoothie, buy activated nuts (available at Whole Foods) or make them yourself.  Soak raw nuts in a bowl of filtered water for 12 hours.  Soaking removes phytic acid from the nut.  Phytic acid blocks the absorption of minerals.  Soaking also triggers the nut to begin germination which further increases its nutritional value and it can make them much easier to digest.  After soaking, allow them to dry and place in a container in your refrigerator for up to 7 days. 

Scapular Instability: A Common Source of Neck and Shoulder Pain

​Scapular instability (winging shoulder blade) is a common source of neck and shoulder pain. It is a rampant problem in people who do pushups, planks, yoga poses or any other hand or elbow support exercises. Very few trainers, coaches, yoga instructors, chiropractors or orthopedists are fixing it let alone looking for it. It is a sign of weakness/inhibition of the serratus anterior muscle and/or hyperactivity of the pecs major/minor. If there is weakness of shoulder blade muscles, neck muscles will tighten up to compensate for this weakness. It often leads to neck pain, tense shoulders, headaches and other upper extremity complaints. If you have these complaints, there is a high likelihood that you have scapular instability.

How I Test for Scapular Instability

This is a simple test I do with these patients. Simply asking them to get into quadriped position will often reveal the problem. I then ask them to rock forward, to the left, to the right and lift one hand off the floor to increase the demand to see if the scapular muscles are up to the challenge. Here you can see scapular instability (winging) on both sides. The left is worse. Coincidently, this patient has neck and shoulder pain on the left side!

How I Treat Scapular Instability

I will treat this problem by treating the patient to correct their posture and reprogram their nervous system to increase the strength of the serratus anterior and other shoulder muscles. Then we will move to corrective exercises to reinforce and maintain the strength of the shoulder blade. This approach has done wonders for many of my patients with chronic neck and shoulder pain.

Why People Develop Pain and How We Fix It (Video)

In this video, I explain how compensations from pain and injuries lead to most wear and tear conditions as we age. I also talk about what needs to happen to fix these problems in order to stop wear and tear and live a pain-free life.

Most of the conditions people see me for, whether it is neck or back pain, a hip or shoulder problem, knee pain or arthritis, they are usually caused by two things, poor posture and poor movement. Both of these eventually develop in us all as a result of the multiple falls, injuries and painful episodes we endure throughout our lifetime.

When we experience pain from an injury, our body has to compensate in the way we move so we do not cause further pain or injury to the involved tissues. These compensations are the result of our nervous system “rewiring” itself to change muscle coordination, posture and movement. Favoring an injury is a necessary strategy so we can move and do the things we need to do while the injury heals. However, after the injury heals, these compensated movements to a smaller degree, become “hardwired” in our nervous system and now becomes  detrimental to our entire body. Our breathing and core stabilization patterns become disrupted, poor posture develops, joints lose their proper alignment and stabilization abilities, movement patterns are no longer “clean” and efficient and wear and tear begins to develop somewhere in our body. THIS is the reason why we develop the arthritis’s, the tendinitises, the rotator cuff and hip problems, the disc herniations and recurring neck and back pain.

Many of us receive various treatments to alleviate these conditions, like anti-inflammatory drugs, cortisone injections, electrical therapies, or even surgery. I’m sure you have had some of these things, but the most important question you need to ask yourself is,  “is it really fixing the underlying cause of the problem.” Is it fixing the poor posture and poor movements that are wearing your body down.

What needs to happen to fix these problems is a resetting of the nervous system. This is because most of the conditions we suffer from are the the result of bad wiring from past injuries. Bad wiring typically does not return to normal without the correct treatment and exercise program. So in order to fix it, you have to reset the nervous system or reset the wiring, like going to the fuse box in your house and resetting a blown circuit breaker.

My job is to find where the blown circuit is in your body and reset it like it was before. It takes a bit of detective work, but the unique assessments I do leads me to the problem most of the time. Once I find the problem, we work on resetting the nervous system to improve your posture and movement to the stop wear and tear and resulting pain. I have found this approach to give the best chance for a PERMANENT resolution for people with chronic and recurring conditions.

Every person’s condition is different and figuring out what needs to be done to fix them is always an enjoyable challenge to me. I look forward to the opportunity to finding and fixing what is ailing you and helping you achieve the pain-free lifestyle you deserve.

Meet Dr. Ryan Hamm (Video)

Dr. Ryan Hamm is a chiropractor at First Health Associates in Arlington Heights. He briefly discusses his passion for helping people, why people develop musculoskeletal problems, and his approach to helping people live the active, pain-free lifestyle they deserve.


I’m Dr. Ryan Hamm. I enjoy and have a strong passion for what I do. I truly care about people and helping them overcome their pain so they can return to an active lifestyle is extremely gratifying to me.

Throughout my journey in healthcare as a practicing chiropractor, I have had the fortunate opportunity to learn from some of the most forward thinking people in the fields of biomechanics, neurology, and kinesiology (the study of human movement). It has become quite clear from the knowledge I have accumulated and assimilated over the years is that there is a reason why our joints, muscles, tendons and other musculoskeletal structures succumb to wear and tear and pain. The reason is because of poor posture and poor movement. Poor posture and poor movement eventually develops in all of us and it is the reason we suffer from the arthritis’s, the tendinitises, the rotator cuff and hip problems, the disc herniations and recurring neck and back pain.

This is why I assess everyone’s posture and observe the way they move to determine the cause of the problem. We then implement the best treatment and exercise program to improve posture and movement to stop wear and tear and the resulting pain. I have found this approach provides the best chance for a permanent resolution for people with chronic and recurring conditions.

Every person’s condition is different and figuring out what needs to be done to fix them is always an enjoyable challenge to me. I look forward to the opportunity to finding and fixing what is ailing you and helping you achieve the pain-free lifestyle you deserve.

9 Steps To Living a Longer, Better Quality of Life

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An American writer and explorer named Dan Buettner published a book in 2008 entitled The Blue Zone: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. This book details information about five regions in the world in which people lived for an unusually long time, often over 100 years. These five regions, which Buettner named the “Blue Zones,” are:


  • The Barbagia region of Sardinia, Italy
  • The tropical islands of Okinawa in Japan
  • Loma Linda, California (home of the Seventh Day Adventists religious group)
  • The small island of Ikaria in Greece
  • Costa Rica’s isolated Nicoya Peninsula

Screen shot 2014-11-11 at 10.37.56 AMUnderstanding that only 20 percent of how long a person lives is determined by genetics, Buettner and his research team began to monitor the diets and lifestyles of these Blue Zone people in the hope of discovering the secrets of their longevity. Here is what he found common among these groups of people and what we can do to enjoy a long quality of life:

Move and Exercise Naturally
These people, who often move for more than five hours per day, perform natural movements for exercise, such as walking, gardening and working around the house. Extreme exercise, such as weight lifting and marathon running was non-existent.

Eat a Plant-based Diet
Their diets are high in fruits, vegetables, and legumes and low in fat, meat, refined sugar and processed foods.

80 Percent Rule
They stop eating when their stomach feels 80 percent full to prevent over-eating.

They Drink Alcohol in Moderation
Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers, especially if they share those drinks with friends. One or two glasses of wine per day with food was common.

Down Shift 
Stress leads to chronic inflammation, which is associated with every major disease. The world’s longest-living people have routines to reduce stress.

Why do you wake up in the morning? Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to an extra seven years of  life expectancy.

Find The Right Tribe
The world’s longest living people live or were born into social circles that support healthy behaviors. Build and surround your social network with people with similar values that you trust.

Belong or Participate in a Spiritual Community
Attending faith-based services four times per month, no matter the denomination, adds up to 14 years of life expectancy.

Loved Ones First
These people put their families first, which is a hallmark among the healthiest and longest living people. Put your loved-ones first and make time for them.


The Blue Zones offers evidence that our lifestyle choices have a profound effect on the quality and length of our lives. Buettner informs us that studies of twins in the Netherlands have revealed that lifestyle factors make up 75% of how long we live, leaving the remaining 25% to genetics. “To make it to age 100, you have to have won the genetic lottery,” Buettner concludes. “But most of us have the capacity to make it well into our early 90s and largely without chronic disease. As the [centenarians] demonstrate, the average person’s life expectancy could increase by 10-12 years by adopting a Blue Zones lifestyle.”