Last article we looked at the spine and how the nature of our seated, sedentary lifestyle restricts not only movement, but wreaks havoc on the surrounding joints, tissue and systems. We mentioned that we must address the entire spine when looking at improving posture and addressing compensatory dysfunction, however, it is clear that when we closely inspect the thoracic spine, it is profoundly different than the cervical or lumbar spine regions, because it is right smack in the middle of our structure. The thoracic spine typically has twelve segments, and it has a ribcage attached to it, providing significant stability and support, which can also become tight, restricted and lack proper function. It is common to see a reduction in proper breath mechanics with an immobile t-spine. It is located between the cervical and lumbar regions of the spine, therefore, because of the nature of its locations all bottom‐up or top‐down movements will be forced to go through the thoracic spine and when the thoracic spine is limited, so are the other regions.
If we can understand the mechanics of the thoracic spine, then we can use the principles of how the FMS systems of corrective movement can assist clients in creating meaningful, sustainable changes in movement and pain management.
We first must look to understand coupled motion; which can be easily explained by any movement of the spine in one plane is normally accompanied by a compatible spinal movement in another plane. For example when there is spinal lateral flexion, this is always accompanied by spinal rotation. The lateral and spiral lines of our fascia matrix allows for our structure to properly rotate, twist and turn. Restricted thoracic mobility will cause changes in the joints that are meant to be stable (aka the ones above and below) this decreased stability in distal points, results in repetitive-injury, microtraumatic dysfunction and pain. Therefore, I would also like to add that most often when a client comes to me with shoulder issues or shoulder pain, addressing the thoracic spine is pivotal. Rarely are the symptoms of thoracic spine rotational dysfunction presented in the thoracic area.
In the last article I also mentioned the “anterior dominant society” which continues to play a significant role in addressing t-spine rotation. The majority client who have limited thoracic spine mobility, have also limited movement into flexion; therefore we most often see dysfunction in extension. The cobra pose was one mobility drill or stretch if you will, we used to improve spinal extension and anterior chain opening.
Therefore, today’s article features a great t-spine mobility drill to help improve mobility, rotation and release of both the anterior and posterior upper chain, as well as introducing rotation to our spiral and lateral lines.
The rib-roll thoracic spine stretch is one such corrective exercise. It not only focuses on rotation, but also re activates the rib cage and shoulder mechanics into working with the thoracic spine in rotation. It has the ability to stretch many dysfunctional areas at one time and is and easy and effective drill to perform at home, at the office or pre workout.
How to Perform the Stretch: Rib Pulls (progression 1) and Bow and Arrow (progression 2)
- Client should be in the side-lying position with hips and shoulders stacked.
- If needed, use a cervical spine support to maintain a comfortable line with a “packed (neutral) neck.” Too much lateral flexion in the neck will enable the tissue to brace.
- Flex the top leg up to 90 degrees and hold onto it with your bottom hand.
- Place a support (foam roller or pillow) underneath the knee to lock the pelvis and prevent excessive lumbar spine rotation (if the knee is too low, you will turn this stretch into a lower lumbar stretch not a thoracic spine stretch)
- Place the hand on your rib cage to assist with end range. Focus on the posterior shoulder blade as well, almost like trying to touch the top posterior deltoid to the floor.
- Place the other hand is placed on your top. knee and is holding it down with the bottom leg straight.
- At end range, assist with bottom hand, pulling torso farther into the stretch.
- Look in the direction of the rotation and exhale on the rotation and inhale on the return to starting position.
- Try not to strain your neck or pull too hard at the end range, this should be a gentle movement. A good benchmark of too much stretch is an inability to breathe through the diaphragm. This is a sign that your nervous system has reached a high threshold barrier.
Progression 2: Bow and Arrow
- Client should be in the side-lying position with hips and shoulders stacked as per the first progression with knee under foam roller and shoulders stacked.
- Place the hands one on top of the other in extension
- Reach the top hand forward gently, pulling the shoulder blade away from the spine, then gently like drawing the bow of an bow and arrow draw the arm across the bottom arm and chest to open into your t spine rotation.
- Take a few breaths and focus on allowing the posterior shoulder to work its way to the floor.
- You should aim to take 3-4 breaths in each rep so that the connective tissue can relax.