The thoracic spine is an incredibly important part of your body, especially if you work at a desk. In many cases, when a client is reporting stiffness in the back they’re having thoracic spine mobility problems.
Ideally, I’d be able to explain how this crucial bit of anatomy works through my themed attraction: Thoracic Park. However, no one has invested in that project yet so we’ll break it down in this article.
Read on to understand what the middle chunk of your spine does and how to get it in proper working order.
The thoracic spine is the middle section of your back consisting of vertebrae T1 (that bump at the base of your neck) through T12 (where your bottom ribs meet the spine). This stretch of your spine can rotate as well as flex and extend.
This region of the back is important for several reasons. First, all your ribs attach to these vertebrae. Second, Your scapulothoracic joint (where your shoulder blades glide across your ribcage as they move) is in this part of your back. And third, the majority of your postural muscle is in this region.
Your scapulothoracic joint is incredibly important to your spine and shoulder health. Shoulder blades should be mobile and stable. If they aren’t it can cause a ripple effect of back, shoulder, and neck issues. Many people confuse mobility and stability for opposites when they actually rely on each other. Your scapulae (shoulder blades) should be free to move in virtually every direction to accommodate the arm through full ranges of motion. In any of these positions, the muscles of the shoulder and scapula need to be strong enough to stabilize the arm and its joints. If you’re not strong enough to stabilize in a certain range of motion, over time you’ll lose the ability to move there. If you can’t move into a certain position, you can’t gain strength there.
Major postural muscles like your lower traps, lats, multifidus, rhomboids, posterior delts, as well as the rotator cuff muscles infraspinatus, supraspinatus, and teres minor all live in the region of the thoracic spine. These are the muscles that hold your shoulders back and your chest up. Weakness in these muscles leads to the hunched over posture associated with 60 hour weeks at a desk. Build strength in these muscles with upper body pulling exercises like rows, pull ups, and externally rotating rotator cuff exercises.
If I had to recommend just one stretch for the thoracic spine, it would have to be this one: The Preacher Stretch. Shown here is a version you can do at home.
This exercise will not only get a solid stretch on your lats, but it will help mobilize your spine through flexion and extension.
IF YOU HAVE BAD POSTURE
If you already have hunched over posture it’s going to be ok. Over time, you can build the right muscles to correct your posture. When you workout, do resistance training 3 times per week and perform 3 times as many pulling movements as pushing ones. For example, if you do 3 sets of 10 reps on a bench press, you’ll need to do 3 sets of 10 reps of 3 different pulling exercises. After a while, your posture will improve and you can move from a 3:1 pull to push ration, down to a 2:1 ratio.
If any of these stretches or exercises hurt, stop them immediately and see your doctor. Acute pain changes this from a movement issue to a medical issue. It's sad I have to actually say this but, you should only trust doctors and physical therapists with a medical issue.
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