The Thoracic Spine
The thoracic spine should be able to bend, flex, extend and rotate to varying degrees, but often is the case with athletes and the general public alike, these motions get diminished over time. Mis-use, sedentary postural demands, and modern devices such as the cell phone, computer, and TV, have caused an orthopedic spinal epidemic. When a loss of thoracic spine mobility exists, the shoulder above and lower back below must become more mobile and less stable to compensate for lost movement.
With this loss of thoracic mobility, the scapula’s path of movement and its range of motion is altered, often to the detriment of soft tissue in the area. Poor biomechanics develop when the scapula is unable to move freely through elevation, depression, protraction, retraction, upward and downward rotation which may lead to pain.
When the scapula isn’t moving optimally due a stiff thoracic spine, any attempts to do anything overhead is going to result in a compromise at the lumbar spine. What was once a stable joint, now has to have a degree of mobility in order to complete the task. This increased mobility may lead to lower back pain.
Fix T-Spine Mobility, then Stabilize
Before we can maintain a strong extended position of the thoracic spine, we must create the necessary range of motion through both extension and rotation drills. Once the thoracic spine has been treated, mobilized and activated, it’s a prime opportunity to lock in these changes with strength exercises. All the mobilization and stretching in the world won’t do any good without retraining new movement patterns.
Below are a few exercises to help with extension and rotation. After achieving full range of motion and increased mobility, follow these with strengthening lifts such as front squats and kettlebell windmills.
Bench T-Spine Mobilization
Get into a quadruped position with the knees on the ground and elbows on an elevated surface, like a bench shoulder width apart. While holding a dowel, rock your hips back and press your chest toward the ground. As you do this, slowly bring the dowel over your head. Breathe into the stretch, then return back to the starting position.
Unilateral Leg Rock with Thoracic Rotation
Set up in a quadruped position, then extend one leg out to the side. Rock your hips back toward your butt slightly, place one hand behind your head and rotate in toward the base arm with the shoulder and thoracic spine. Once you reach your limit without compensating, rotate back out.
Quadruped Thoracic Spine Rotation w/ Lumbar & Shoulder Lock
Set up in a quadruped position, then place one hand behind the lumbar spine. Rock your hips back to maintain an ass to heel position, rotate in toward the base arm with the shoulder and thoracic spine. Once you reach your limit without compensating, rotate back out.
Hybrid Quadruped Thoracic Spinal Rotation
Set up in a quadruped position, place one hand behind your head and rotate in toward the base arm with the shoulder and thoracic spine. Once you reach your limit without compensating, rotate back out while rocking back with your hips to the ass to heel position. Rock forward to the quadruped position and repeat rotating toward the base arm.
Quadruped Band Assisted Thoracic Rotation
Attach a band to a rack, grab the band and then set up in a quadruped position. You want to be far enough away where there is tension in the band. Hold the band with the outside hand, and then let the band slowly pull your shoulder and T-spine into rotation. Avoid shifting your bodyweight with the band. We’re solely looking for the band to assist us into that thoracic rotation.
Wide Stance Horizontal Twist
Set up a band at chest height on a rack, hold it at the end and walk out with it till you feel tension. With the band at your chest, spread your feet wider than shoulder width, then press your arms straight out. While keeping the hips stable, and bracing the core, slowly turn the shoulders and thoracic spine toward the rack. Once you find your limit to where you can keep the hips stable, and not sacrifice the shoulders or elbows, turn back to the midline. It’s vital to the exercise that the rotation comes from the T-Spine rather than pulling with the arms.
Programming These Movements
It is vital to shoulder and low back health to practice these drills on a consistent basis. Without that consistency, there will be little to no progress on improving T-spine mobility. With each of these exercises, we’re looking to create an adaptation and not exhaust or overwork the tissue.
Starting off with extension will help loosen the tissue of the thoracic spine, thus making the rotation much more effective. Use this daily program to improve and maintain your thoracic spine mobility.
- Bench T-Spine Mobilization 1×8-12
- Unilateral Leg Rock with Thoracic Rotation 1×8-12
- Quadruped Thoracic Spine Rotation w/ Lumbar & Shoulder Lock 1×8-12
- Hybrid Quadruped Thoracic Spinal Rotation 1×8-12
- Quadruped Band Assisted Thoracic Rotation 1×10-15
- Wide Stance Horizontal Chop 1×10-15