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What/where is your thoracic spine?

thoracic spine

Thoracic Spine Mobility

The thoracic spine, commonly referred to as the upper back, is comprised of 12 individual vertebrae. The structure of these vertebrae permits rotation and lateral bending. Slight flexion and hyperextension can occur as well in thoracic mobility. These movements are essential, especially in regards to safe resistance training and efficient aerobic exercise.

For many individuals, a dominant part of our daily lives require actions occurring in front of our bodies. Whether it be driving, typing, or pushing a shopping cart, the prevalence of this position is inevitable. Consequently, the prolonged time spent in this forward position can hinder the mobility as well as lead to stiffness in the thoracic spine. Take a look around—notice anyone with slumped shoulders and poor posture?   There’s a viable chance the individual is suffering from a lack of thoracic mobility.

So what’s the big deal?

 When we limit the range of motion of our thoracic spine, we are forced to compensate in other areas.  These compensations can lead to postural issues, low back/ neck pain, headaches, biomechanical inefficiencies, and for the athletic population especially, decreased force production and ability to maintain optimal lifting form.

An accumulation of these concerns can drastically affect movements such as the barbell back squat and overhead lifts. During a back squat, failure to maintain an upright posture can be indicative of poor thoracic mobility due to the excessive forward flexion and inability to achieve thoracic extension. Not only does this decrease the ability to successfully perform the lift, but it also redirects a great amount of stress to the lumbar spine and increases the risk for a lower back injury. Because the scapula resides on the thoracic region of the ribcage, the t-spine position directly influences scapular rhythm. Hence, a lack of thoracic mobility will in turn yield poor movement of the shoulder girdle as well.  This is especially problematic for lifts such as the snatch, clean and jerk, or overhead press to name a few.

How can I improve my thoracic mobility?

 Check out the related videos for a self-assessment to first gauge your own t-spine mobility, and then move on to the corrective exercises to improve!

Active Physical Therapy

Written by Kelsey Kremer

Kelsey is a student at Capital University, studying exercise science. She plans on attending a Physical Therapy Docorate program in the future.

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