Hiccups happen when the diaphragm goes into spasm, interrupting normal controlled breathing and causing the vocal chords to close with an audible ‘hic’. Generally the condition will settle on its own after a few minutes, but can be excruciatingly embarrassing or inconvenient, such as in this adorable clip of a young man singing the National Anthem of Australia whilst afflicted with the hiccups.
Hiccups can come on for several reasons. The most common are:
- coughing or laughing
- swallowing air
- eating too fast or drinking carbonated drinks
- strong emotions, such as anxiety, excitement or fear
It is useful to know a little anatomy. Two spinal nerves exit from the spinal cord between vertebrae at every level of the spine. The diaphragm is supplied by nerves coming from the C4 level in the neck. The left nerve supplies the left half of the diaphragm and the right nerve supplies the right half of the diaphragm.
The C4 nerves also supply sensation to the shoulders. Nerves respond very well to stimulation and, as most cases of hiccups involve the stomach, it makes sense to pinch or squeeze the left shoulder. The stomach sits just underneath the left half of the diaphragm, so stimulating the nerve supplying the diaphragm on the left side should affect the spasm there. And this appears to work. For many years I’ve used this technique to calm the hiccups, and it has never failed.
Squeeze firmly, but not so hard as to cause pain or bruising. It usually takes only a moment or two before the hiccups stop. You should feel the diaphragm relaxing as you’re squeezing your left shoulder. Keep up the pressure until you’re sure the episode is over:
Pinch firmly, holding the pressure on until the hiccups have stopped.
There are other reasons for hiccups so, if this technique doesn’t work for you or you’re experiencing abnormally frequent episodes, please see a doctor.
Here’s to self-treatment!
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