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Unlock Your Thoracic Spine

If you are reading this you fall into one of three categories. What are the implications of addressing the thoracic spine as it relates to:

  1. Pain
  2. Injury
  3. Performance

When you consider the the role of the thoracic spine in regards to these indicators you must also consider some anatomy and function. Think of the intimacy the thoracic spine has with the following areas:

  1. Cervical Spine
  2. Ribcage
  3. Lumbar Spine
  4. Scapula/Glenohumeral Joint Complex

Also consider the role of our thoracic spine: To protect very important internal structures like our heart, lungs, and major vessels. It makes sense why this area is built the way it is and it’s easy to understand how this area can
become too rigid. The problem is that the stiffness, for lack of a better term, is by default not by design.

Typically if you are having pain or dysfunction in the neck, shoulder, or lower back; the thoracic spine could very well part of the underlying cause. In my opinion, it’s the most underrated and under addressed segment in the entire
body. So how do we make a structure that is inherently designed for stability and protection more mobile? How do we give it the right kind of stability that goes beyond passive stability? What does stability and mobility even mean?

Charlie Weingroff uses a helpful analogy to help lock in understanding of the terms mobility and stability. Let’s say you have a slingshot. In this example you are right handed. In order to fire the pellet, rock, marble, etc the most
accurately and with the most speed you will hold the slingshot handle in your left hand and pull the band back with your right hand.

What if you had the perfect band with just enough elasticity that you could pull back with good technique, BUT you didn’t have enough strength in your left hand to stabilize it? That would be a STABILITY problem. On the other hand,
let’s say you have a rock solid grip and position in your left hand but now the band won’t stretch and elongate far enough to even generate enough tension to produce force? That would be a MOBILITY problem. So stability is essentially
strength in the presence of some type of change. Mobility is the ability to move through a desired position or range of motion with considerations of the joint(s) AND soft tissues structures.

Mobility drills are important in the thoracic spine because this region is bridge between the upper segments and lower segments. If you can’t flex, side bend, rotate, and extend in the thoracic spine then you will inevitably get that
motion from your lower back or shoulder joint. Addressing mobility in these region is the key in preventing potential pain and dysfunction in these areas down the road.

In order to lock in those mobility gainz you have to lock in those changes through specific and targeted drills to promote adaptation. In order for the body to adapt it has to be challenged.

Loaded mobility drills are also important because they can clear up any perceived tightness sensations that you always thought was just a “tight” muscle. Sometimes the central nervous system needs to know you can properly stabilize a
joint actively before it will rid itself of any passive tension. Our body is designed to perform, it’s just sometimes we don’t allow our body to do that in the most optimal strategies or positions.

Here are some helpful strategies to unlock your thoracic spine potential and bulletproof it for healthy and optimal function.

1)Thoracic Extension with Self-Overpressure

– Start with your shoulder blades on the foam roller and reach into the overhead position to grab the KB. Bridge the hips off the ground and inhale and slowly lower hips back down as you exhale.

– Don’t overextend in the lower back by keeping core engaged. Keep your ribs down and in. Feel yourself hinge in the T-spine. Don’t torque your shoulder joint, this is an exaggerated extension moment in the spine. No need to be

-Work through multiple segments by performing 2-3 reps in upper/middle T spine. Don’t mobilize too far below shoulder blade level

2) Resisted Open Books


-Start with the shoulder stacked. Keep the top leg bent to about 90 degrees of flexion and in contact with foam roller at all times. This will make you rotate in thoracic spine without any compensation from the lumbar spine

-Let your eyes lead the way. Your neck shoulder slightly lead your extended arm.
-Using a band makes you work for that rotation and helps to lock in that motion. If you can’t breathe in the maximally reached position take the resistance away.

3) Half Kneeling Side Bend

-Keep constant outward pressure into foam roller. Halving the opposite leg (away from side bending side) forward helps to lock in the lumbar spine.
-Try with both arms overhead first but if you start to notice your entire trunk shift utilize the off hand to create a bit of a counter pressure for some feedback.
-This is a hard one. You may not have much ROM to work through here. Don’t be greedy and work through efficient range. Awareness and technique really matter for this one.

4) Quadruped Reach & Rotate

-Start with butt to heels. Keep your weight back through the movement. Feel your shoulder blade pinch in as you reach through your body. Squeeze the shoulder blade into a nice packed position.
-Rotate by pulling through your elbow. Eyes lead the way on this one.
-Keep the opposite forearm into the floor. This provides a better base to move on as you rotate.
-If this is too difficult try attaching the band to the shoulder on the same side that is rotating for more of a “pattern assistance” movement and let the band help pull into rotation.

5) Half-Kneeling Pallof Rotation

-Rotate over the forward knee. This helps lock the lower back in and most of the rotation will come from thoracic spine.
-Having the pipe locked in this position naturally forces you into more of a thoracic extended posture.
-You have to work for this one. A lot more challenging than you may think. This could be used as a good anti-rotation exercise as well.The band (in this video) is trying to pull you into right rotation.

6) Banded Field Goals

-Place band at level of elbows to allow proper tension through shoulder blades. Keep thumbs pointed back behind you and then apply pressure into the foam roller (keep this tension through the whole movement).
-Move your arms upwards as you keep the tension into the roller, when the roller gets to forehead level, lean your upper body towards the wall while maintaining a tight core.
-If you cannot get the roller overhead comfortably, move through the range that you have until you become used to it. You have to earn the right to lean towards the wall.

7) Prone Swimmers

-Lay face-down on a padded surface, first start by drawing your chin towards your spine and moving your head off of the ground.

-Lift your palms off of the ground and move in a circular pattern towards your glutes while turning your palms up toward the ceiling to end the movement. Rest and allow your hands to rest on your glutes, then initiate the movement again
by lifting your hands off.

-Throughout the movement, remember to maintain a tight core so that you do not move into lumbar extension. Feel the burn as you complete repetitions.

8) Hinge Openers

-Start with a barbell placed at shoulder heights, stand arms length from the bar. Grasp the bar with your palms facing towards the floor, hands should be 1 inch further than shoulder width.
-Initiate the movement by hinging from the hips, moving your hips backwards while maintaining a tight core throughout. Move backwards until you feel a stretch at the center of your back.
-Ensure that you do not bend your elbows and do not extend your lumbar spine.

9) Thoracic Bends

-Start seated on the floor or in a chair, place a foam roller between your knees and squeeze the roller with your knees. Keep this pressure throughout the exercise.

-Rotate slowly to one side, going to 20 degrees, then bend towards that same side, return to the 20 degrees, and then rotate another 20 degrees, then bend to the same side. Return and move one more time into end range rotation, and

-Perform on both sides, make sure that you are not bending from the pelvic/lumbar region. Keep your arms at shoulder level at all times. Avoid excessive neck bending by keeping your chin slightly tucked.

10) Kneeling Dowel Rocks

-Start with your hands slightly closer than shoulder width on a dowel, make sure that your palms are facing up towards the ceiling.
-Keep your elbows on the bend, and start the movement by slowly rocking your hips backwards while keeping your elbows in place. Avoid letting your hands slide together as you move your hips backwards.
-As you reach a tight position in your upper back and shoulders, then bend your elbows as you are trying to touch the object to the back of your thoracic spine.
-Avoid excessive lumbar extension or flexion, maintain tight core throughout.
-Carefully return to the start position.


Dr. Bryan Keith

Myomuv PT

We help active adults and athletes return to the activities they love without pain, without taking time off, and feeling more confident and capable than ever before.