Feeling stiff? Over the past few months many have been working from home, spending much more time in front of your computers and are now feeling the effects. Extended periods of sitting, whether at our computers or not, can contribute to stiffness of the mid back aka the thoracic spine.
What is the Thoracic Spine?
The thoracic spine is the twelve vertebrae of the middle segment of the vertebral column. While all vertebrae have rib components, they are usually small and make up the transverse processes in regions other than the thorax (Drake, Vogl & Mitchell, 2015).
On average, each thoracic vertebra can rotate approximately 3 °. Therefore, the entire thoracic spine should demonstrate between 30 -35 ° of total rotation to each side (Neumann, 2010).
Why is the Thoracic Spine Mobility So Important?
Thoracic spine mobility is an extremely important and often times overlooked component to a variety of dysfunctions. Poor thoracic mobility can affect the shoulder, neck, low back, and hip very easily. Unfortunately, our daily habits and posture makes us all very prone to poor thoracic spine mobility.
A lot of the time shoulder pain can be prevented and overhead positional issues can be resolved by including thoracic mobility drills in your warm up.
How Can You Improve Your Thoracic Mobility?
Just like mobility and flexibility of other areas of the body, your thoracic mobility can be improved, but it does take exercise and some time. Lack of thoracic mobility can be due to a multitude of factors, but is likely due to some combination of weakness, imbalance, or inactivity.
If you think you may have an injury impacting your thoracic mobility you should get assessed by a medical provider such as a physiotherapist.
5 Easy Ways to Improve Thoracic Mobility
Like any postural corrections, change takes time and consistency. Our suggestion is a combination of mobility work and soft tissue treatment from a local therapist. You can download our Thoracic mobility cheat sheet here: (ADD IN EMAIL REQUIREMENT AND PHYSITRACK PDF).
Cat-Cow Start on all fours with your hands directly under the shoulders and knees under the hips. To perform cat, exhale and round through the mid-back lifting the ribcage towards the sky and allow your head and neck to relax. To perform cow, inhale and lift the head and chest while allowing your stomach to sink to the floor. Repeat 15 times.
Thread the Needle Start on all fours with your hands directly under the shoulders and knees under the hips. Begin with a neutral spine. Exhale and reach with one arm under the opposite arm as far as possible while rotating through your mid-back. From this position, inhale and reach back in the opposite direction, opening up your chest. Your gaze should follow your hand. Repeat 15 times.
Deep Squat + Thoracic Rotation This is a more advanced drill that is a pre requisite for the overhead squat. You can start with no weights at first then progress to light dumbbells (2-3kgs) over time. The goal is to keep your hips in a deep squat position while you reach overhead with one arm. Start with 3 sets of 8 each side.
Peanut-Roll/Mobilization One of the best tools to improve thoracic spine mobility is to use a “peanut” or you can tape two tennis or two lacrosse balls together. Lie on your back with your arms crossed in front of you. This will pull your shoulder blades "out" to the side, giving space to place the peanut. The tennis or lacrosse balls should rest on both sides of your spine. With your arms across your chest, perform a small crunch by raising your shoulders off the ground a few inches. Hold this position for a few seconds before returning to start position. Make sure not to hyper-extend your lower back during this movement. The peanut acts as a fulcrum on the spine during this movement. When this force is applied to a stiff joint, it can help improve mobility. Perform 2-3 sets of 15 repetitions on each segment of your mid-back that feels stiff. If you don’t feel any stiffness at a particular part of your spine during the movement, move the peanut up or down to another segment. It is normal to have restrictions in some areas of the thoracic spine and not all.
Reach Roll and Lift Lay on your stomach or sit back into your hips. Reach your arms out in front of you with your palms down. Rotate/ roll your palms up so they are putting up, as much as possible, and then pull the arm down towards your feet. Lift the the hand up off the ground without bending elbow. This exercise is not for everyone. If you lack shoulder mobility or thoracic mobility myofascial release or Active Release Techniques along with spinal manipulation may help to improve restrictions in the joints.
Book an appointment with us today if you want to see a physiotherapist!