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  • Jessie Mayo

Thoracic Spine Mobility - the movement hub of the spine

The thoracic spine is the middle part of your spine. Above it is the neck (cervical spine) and below the lower back (lumbar spine). The thoracic spine is made up of twelve vertebra that each attach to ribs on either side making up the rib cage with the sternum at the front. One of the main purposes of the thoracic spine/rib cage is to provide protection to our vital organs, our heart and lungs. In addition to this the thoracic spine is very important in mobility - it should flex, extend, rotate and laterally flex. This mobility aids in supporting the lower back and neck and also our shoulders.

Thoracic spine mobility often be reduced due to lifestyle factors such as sitting at a desk. See what happens to your twisting if you round your back. A little harder? Do the same for lifting your shoulders. Slump down and try and lift your arms overhead. Now do the same sitting up nice and tall. A bit more movement when you're taller. Think about how much more the muscles have to work when you have poor posture and a stiff thoracic spine.

The thoracic spine contributes over 30% of neck flexion and over 20% of neck rotation. If you thoracic spine is stiff and mobility is reduced the body will find a way to get that movement. This can lead to overload at the neck and localised neck pain. The same occurs at the lower back. It is important to assess your thoracic spine when you are feeling neck and back pain.

So what do you do about a stiff upper back?? To improve you mobility there are a few things you can do to get moving.

  1. Move - stretch, mobilise, get your back moving. It is important to focus on both thoracic rotation and extension.

  2. Improve your strength - improving your postural strength and the strength around your shoulder blades you can help support your thoracic spine. The support will help you reduce the load on the joints and maintain your mobility.

  3. Posture - adjust your work or seated/static postures. Change position regularly.

  4. Breathe - breathing into your lower ribs can help improve the mobility of the joint from the rib to the thoracic spine. This can help with your thoracic stiffness. Take time out and place a hand on your lower ribs, feel them expand as you breathe in.

  5. See a physio - your physio will be able to help you with local stiffness and provide you with a specific exercise program to help you long term.

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