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Thoracic Spine Mobility

Physiotherapist Claire talks about common presentations involving the thoracic spine.

The thoracic spine commonly referred to as your ‘mid back’, is comprised of 12 vertebrae which articulate with 12 pairs of ribs in the body. The thoracic spine is naturally slightly kyphotic (curves forward) and is built to rotate, flex and extend. It is generally pretty mobile and because of this, it be must be moved. However, if people are unaware of this part of the body and/or how to move it correctly they’ll attempt to compensate by twisting, rotating, and flexing with something else, e.g. the neck, lower back or knees, ultimately causing pain and dysfunction throughout the body.

Some potential problems with these compensatory patterns may include:

Lower back pain: your lower back is normally meant to provide stability and take the weight of the body, however if the thoracic spine is stiff the lower back will compensate to make up for this lack of mobility

Reduced shoulder movement: try excessively bending your upper back forward as if you have terrible posture, and then raising your arms all the way overhead. Now try the same movement with your back straightened upright. Feel the difference? Imagine what a difference this can make in overhead work, serving in tennis, throwing a ball or swimming.

Altered Neck movement and postural dysfunction: excessive rounding or forward flexion of the thoracic spine (e.g. sitting for prolonged periods, breast feeding) commonly contributes to forward head posture and the multitude of dysfunctional issues that come along with this like headaches.

Altered breathing patterns and capacity: your lungs lie within your ribcage, which attaches to the vertebrae in the thoracic spine. Excessive thoracic flexion can limit the depth to which lungs can be filled with air when taking a deep breath.

How to improve your mobility and prevent these dysfunctions:

Get moving: Don’t sit for prolonged periods, get up and get moving, even if that means just walking to the kitchen to get some water while at work or make a cup of tea in the ad breaks while watching TV.

Try some of these exercises below: 1-2 x day

Thread the needle stretch

Thread the needle

· Begin in all fours

· Reach your right arm underneath your body to the left

· Release your right shoulder and temple to the ground. Your hips will sink back a bit towards your heel

· Allow your left hand to rest on your lower back

· Breathe here for at least three deep breathes and repeat on the other side

Book Openings

· Lie on your side with your knees bent

· Inhale, float top arm up to ceiling

· Exhale turn head and look behind, allowing body to follow head and arm backwards

· Inhale, hold

· Exhale, return to start position

Foam roller stretch

· Put the foam roller under your upper back / thoracic spine. Keep your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Place your hands behind your head and pull your elbows as close together as they'll go.

· Gently roll the roller along your back and if you feel stiff in particular parts hold on this section for a few seconds while you take a few deep breathes.

Review your work set up (below). Image: HealthSource Medical

Join an exercise group: Our mat and equipment group physio classes incorporating thoracic spine mobility exercises

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