Our spines are the backbone of our bodies, quite literally. Nestled between the cervical and lumbar regions, the thoracic spine is a vital part of the equation, responsible for maintaining good posture and mobility. In this article, we’ll delve into the importance of a healthy thoracic spine and explore practical tips and exercises to help you achieve better spinal health and alleviate common issues. Whether you spend long hours hunched over a desk or simply want to proactively care for your spine, join us to unlock the secrets of a healthier, pain-free thoracic spine.
Your spine consists of 3 parts: your cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (mid back), and lumbar spine (lower back). The lumbar spine has 5 vertebrae, the cervical spine has 7, and the thoracic has 12. Your thoracic spine, or middle back, differs from the others as it is a very stable segment of the spine. The ribs connect to the thoracic vertebrae and create a cage-like structure, limiting movement. The primary motion of the thoracic spine is rotation, however it does contribute to flexion (bending forward), with very little extension.
Lack of thoracic mobility is common and can be problematic. This blog will outline some handy hints to improve your mobility and reduce your pain.
Pain In Your Thoracic Spine
Pain in the thoracic spine is common for those of us who spend our days seated at desks, a posture that seems almost unavoidable in the modern world. Symptoms can present as a persistent ache between the shoulder blades, and in some cases, it can even make taking a deep breath feel like a challenging task. However, thoracic spine issues aren’t limited to desk-bound individuals.
Athletes who participate in sports like swimming, tennis, or those that involve throwing often also suffer from the pain in the thoracic spine. In these sports, the mid-back region becomes a pivotal point for optimal performance. A stiff thoracic spine can restrict rotation, hinder smooth movements, and increase the risk of injury.
Why Do You Need Thoracic Mobility
Relieving Strain on the Lumbar and Cervical Spine
When the thoracic spine lacks mobility, it forces the rest of the body to compensate, primarily the lumbar and cervical spine. These neighbouring regions are forced to attempt tasks beyond their design, leading to strain, discomfort, and sometimes, chronic pain.
The Overhead Athlete’s Dilemma
In overhead sporting activities, the thoracic spine plays a pivotal role in allowing the shoulders to reach fully above the head. This range of motion is essential for optimal performance, whether you’re reaching for that winning tennis serve or perfecting your butterfly stroke in the pool. When thoracic mobility is lacking your shoulder can’t fully reach its potential, and over time, this deficiency could lead to strain and injury.
Do You Lack Thoracic Mobility
Lie with your back on the floor. Place your feet and buttocks flat on the floor. Bring your arms straight overhead (not the side). Keep your elbows locked and don’t hyper-extend your lower back.
If you find that your wrists don’t quite make contact with the floor you may lack thoracic mobility, but you aren’t alone. Many individuals lack the necessary thoracic mobility to ace this simple test. The great news is that thoracic mobility can be improved with targeted exercises and techniques.
What Can Be Done To Fix This Problem
Ways To Maintain Good Posture
- Ergonomics at work: if you spend a substantial portion of your day at a desk, ensure your computer screen is at eye level to minimise the strain on your thoracic spine
- Activate and release: throughout the day, activate the muscles between your shoulder blades, and then release. This simple exercise, when practised multiple times daily, can significantly improve your thoracic mobility and posture.
- Office ergonomics: invest in a good chair with firm back support to promote healthy posture at the office.
- Gym etiquette: maintain proper posture at the gym. When performing exercises like squats and deadlifts, focus on keeping your chest up to prevent the lower back from rounding while strengthening the mid-back. An improved thoracic mobility will make it easier to maintain that chest-up position during your workouts.
Exercises Designed To Enhance Your Thoracic Spine’s Flexibility And Strength
Exercise 1: Shoulder Stretch
Release tension in your shoulders and thoracic spine by clasping your hands behind your back while extending your head backwards. Hold this stretch for around 20 seconds and repeat 5 times.
Exercise 2: Broom-Handle Stretch and Swing
Place a long rod, like a broom handle, behind your neck and grasp it as instructed. Rotate your body from side to side, reaching the maximum stretch. Perform 10 rotations in each direction.
Exercise 3: Knees-To-Elbows Back Arch
Arch your back as if you were a cat, supporting yourself on both knees and elbows. If you are aiming to target the upper part of your spine, place your elbows forward and lower your chest. For the lower part of your back, perform the exercise on your hands and knees. Hunch your back as you breathe in, and then arch it as you fully breathe out.
Exercise 4: Thoracic Foam Roller
Lie on your back with a foam roller positioned under your thoracic spine. Hug yourself so your shoulder blades shift to the side or stretch your arms above your head while keeping your feet flat on the floor. Roll back and forth, avoiding your neck and lower back with the aim of ‘arching’ your thoracic spine. Continue for around 5 minutes, but take a break when needed.
Seeking extra guidance from professionals can also be a game-changer. Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists can bring expertise, personalised assessments and tailored exercise programs that address your specific needs and help navigate the complexities of mid-back health. If you’d like some professional guidance to get you started, our clinician can help! Contact our friendly reception team to book an appointment today.