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How we breathe directly affects how badly something hurts. Beyond factors such as postural control and muscle tension, breathing pattern disorders can play a role in the amplification of pain.
For instance, respiratory alkalosis caused by over-breathing can induce muscle spasm and heighten the body’s response to stress hormones including adrenaline.
These factors combine to create inadequate blood flow and poor oxygenation of the tissues and organs. One 2006 study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore the way that hyperventilation influences pain mechanisms.
Researchers found that low blood CO2 may affect the processing of motor tasks and pain input. They discovered changes in the relative levels of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood, which they believed indicated widespread constriction of blood vessels in the gray matter of the brain. This was thought to represent an acute reaction to reduced blood CO2.