Our spine plays a crucial role in posture as well as movement. Every segment of our spine has its own role but let’s take a quick look into the thoracic spine specifically. Your thoracic spine consists of 12 vertebrae (T1-T12). Ideally, this portion of our spine is very mobile. Unfortunately, due to inactive lifestyles and hours spent sitting in front of computers, for many people this isn’t the case. If a lack of mobility is occurring in the thoracic spine, it needs to come somewhere. This is where the lumbar spine (or lower back) comes into play. If the thoracic spine isn’t able to move properly, our body may start to look at our lumbar spine to aid in movement (and since our lumbar spine should be more stable, this is not a good thing).
Follow these steps to test and see how mobile or immobile your thoracic spine is:
- Lie on the floor, back flat against the floor (use your abdominal muscles to press your lower back down & tilt your pelvis posteriorly
- Bend your knees & be sure your feet and glutes are flat on the floor
- Lock your elbows in to your sides and bring your arms directly overhead. Attempt to touch your wrists to the ground above your head
- BE SURE TO MAINTAIN CONTACT BETWEEN YOUR LOWER BACK & THE FLOOR; DONT ARCH YOUR BACK
If you are not able to maintain this position and touch your wrists to the ground, you have less than optimal mobility. Take a look & start incorporating these exercises into your normal routine to help improve your mobility:
Thoracic Spine Foam Roll:
Start in a similar position to the starting point of the thoracic spine mobility test, but this time you will be lying on a foam roller (underneath your back/thoracic spine). Cross your arms over your chest, tuck your chin to your chest & start rolling. The slower the better, & if you find a spot that is more tender than others, go ahead & pause on that spot, breathe & try to relax. This exercise focuses on loosening up the fascia that surrounds your thoracic spine. Just be sure not to roll your neck or lower back.
Side Lying Rotations (Openbooks):
Start by lying on your right side with a foam roller, block, or pillow underneath your left knee which should be bent at 90 degrees (right leg is straight). Arms are straight ahead & parallel to the ground, hands together. While keeping your hips & lumbar spine stable, exhale as you open your top arm (left arm in this case) around until your upper back and arm are flat against the ground (or as close as your mobility allows you). Be sure to tighten your core as you exhale & take your arm across your body so that your lumbar spine does not rotate. It may also help to push your knee into the foam roller (or whichever prop you choose). Do 10 rotations/side, holding for a few seconds as you open up. Be sure to breathe!
Start on your hands & knees. Right hand should be placed behind your neck as you rotate along your thoracic spine, making your right elbow turn toward the floor. Sit back in your hips just a bit to keep them from rotating as you twist. Keep your core tight & breathe! Do 10 reps/side, holding for a few seconds as you twist.
Incorporating these simple exercises in your normal exercise routine will help your thoracic spine mobility, no question about it. Now get on your way to a healthy back!