Today’s post is about thoracic spine mobility. No, don’t leave yet! Do you have a nagging shoulder pain? Does your lower back hurt constantly? Do you have trouble pushing heavy things over your head thus increasing your awesome factor by 1000? The answer could lie in your thoracic spine!
Why do we need t-spine mobility (and why you should keep reading):
- Connection point for the entire rib cage. The ribs hold 1/3 of the responsibility for proper breathing patterns and if the t-spine is stiff and immobile, that takes out the ribs (technically the intercostal muscles) capacity to bring in oxygen thus leading to side stitches and neck cramps during running/heavy anaerobic work.
- Facilitate proper scapular (shoulder blade) glide/ movement during shoulder movement. Without proper t-spine extension and rotation the shoulder blade gets all gunked up (technical term) which can lead to rotator cuff issues and shoulder impingements.
- The ability to extend and rotate from the t-spine prevents us from finding that motion in our lumbar spine (which is NOT meant to do that as much). The lumbar spine should be stable while the t-spine does all that rotating and extending, such as can be found in a golf swing or throwing a baseball. When the t-spine is locked up, those motions come from the lumbar spine which leads to ouchies.
What causes poor t-spine mobility?
How are you sitting as you read this? Hunched over, shoulders rounded and neck protruding over to glean every bit of knowledge from my pithy words… maybe not that far but check your posture.
We spend a LOT of time in the position (at work, watching TV, driving, etc.) This results in the following:
1. Tight pecs and shoulder blades are protracted (far apart) and shoulders slumped forward in internal rotation. Try lifting your arms over your head in this position. Doesn’t happen right?
2. Shortened rectus abdominis (the 6-pack) and this is not caused by just slouching while sitting but by all those hundreds of crunches that magazines tell you will make you look fabulous. Crunches shorten the RA thus pulling your rib cage down and cause slouching. Not the most attractive pose.
3. This one applies more often to females than males, but anterior pelvic tilt (the pelvis tilts forward causing lumbar lordosis) causes the t-spine to round out the opposite direction (kyphosis) in order to keep you upright. Weak glutes contribute to anterior pelvic tilt. Work on the posterior chain and you’ll notice that it becomes easier to stand up straight. Crazy, getting a stronger butt helps your t-spine!
So how do you improve t-spine mobility?
Soft tissue work: Take a lacrosse ball and roll the crap out of your pecs and upper back (and while you’re at it, roll your glutes too). I know it’s awkward for females, but dig in there. Your shoulders will thank you.
Lying extension rotation:
Key points: Prop up your top knee to maintain a neutral spine. Thumbs will always lead the way: down to your knee and over your head towards the floor. Move your arm as if you’re making half a “Y” from the “YMCA.” Go as far as your can without pain or forcing it down, don’t be surprised if you can’t touch the floor.
Key points: Push your chest through your hands towards your knees. Do not move from your lower back, brace your abs during this, note how my lower spine stays neutral as I attempt to push my chest through my hands. Continue to brace during the spidermans (the lunge thing with the overhead reach). Also, pull your chest to the ceiling before you reach overhead. I stole this from Tony Gentilcore and Nick Tumminello and both have a more extensive explanation that I will since this post is reaching a Hagrid-like proportion.
Key points: Use LIGHT weights (either at a cable machine or a light band). Shove your shoulders away from your ears and pinch a pencil between your blades. If your neck starts to get tired, you’re doing it wrong. Reset, shove those shoulders down and pull towards your chin (which is not straining forward to meet your hands)
Seated t-spine rotation with dowel rod:
Key points: Sit tall, as if you had another dowel rod implanted in your spine. (ewww.) DO NOT rotate from your low back. The rotation should come from the mid-point of your spine (just above where the last few ribs attach to the spine). Scoot closer to the wall if you can’t rotate and touch the wall with one end of the dowel rod without moving from your lower back. Elbows should remain parallel to the floor throughout the movement. If you can’t sit on the floor without rounding your lower back, sit on a bench or chair.
Armed with exercises to improve your thoracic mobility, go forth this weekend and EXTEND! ROTATE! And pick up some heavy stuff while you’re at it.