The thoracic spine is the part of your back spanning from the base of your neck to the bottom of your ribs. Because your ribs attach to this portion of the spine, it’s not as mobile as the regions above it (your neck) and below it (your low back). It also tends to get stiff because many of us sit hunched over a desk/computer/phone for much of the day. However, mobility of the thoracic spine is essential for normal, pain-free movement of the neck, shoulders, and low back.
There is plenty of evidence on the role of thoracic mobility in reducing shoulder and neck pain and increasing shoulder and neck range of motion (see Heneghan and Rushton, 2016; Nakamaru, 2019; and Heneghan et al., 2020, for starters). If you are someone who struggles to get your arms overhead all the way to your ears, your thoracic spine may be holding you back just as much as your shoulder mobility. There is also emerging research that thoracic mobilization may play a role in the body’s balance between sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) nerve input (Rogan et al., 2019 for instance). Our fight-or-flight nerves live next to the thoracic spine, so there is an anatomical basis for this idea.
So how do you mobilize the thoracic spine? Check out these videos for ideas.
Thread the needle
Half-kneel thread the needle
Child’s pose thoracic rotation
Thoracic rotation at wall
Thoracic foam rolling
Here at Peak Endurance Performance & Physical Therapy we help active adults in the Madison Area get back to the activities they love without pain or limitations. We see people of all ages, ability levels, and individuals trying to get back to a multitude of movements including: getting back into running, women postpartum, CrossFit athletes, climbers, gymnasts, wrestlers, overhead athletes, and your recreational weekend warrior. If you’re looking to get back to the activities that give you meaning, relieve stress, and make you feel like you again, feel free to reach out below and we’ll see if we’re the right fit for you.