How Improving Thoracic (Mid Back) Spine Mobility Can Change Your Life | IMPACT Physical Therapy

How Improving Thoracic (Mid Back) Spine Mobility Can Change Your Life

  Tue, Jun 16, 2020

Sitting behind a desk all day can lead to a variety of problems and potential risk for future injury. Many of the common complaints we have in physical therapy are low back, neck and shoulder pain. Most of the time there is a common denominator for these complaints and that common denominator is the thoracic spine.

What is the Thoracic Spine?

The thoracic spine makes up the middle portion of the spine/back consisting of 12 vertebrae and is responsible for most of our spinal rotation. The thoracic spine also moves in all other planes of motion including side-bending, extension, and flexion. The ribs as well as various muscles attach to the thoracic spine providing stability for our back. Mobility in our thoracic spine is essential when it comes to having proper function of the back, neck, and shoulder. Unfortunately, because we sit a lot during our daily lives, ie. work, driving, eating, etc. our thoracic spine tends to be very stiff or immobile, leading to a plethora of problems.

Potential Injuries Related to Thoracic Spine

A stiff thoracic spine will cause the neck, back and shoulder muscles and joints to compensate by working harder which can lead to overuse injury of those areas. For example, a tennis player with limited thoracic spine mobility, will have to rely on the shoulder more when serving due to lack of extension in the thoracic spine. This can lead to rotator cuff tendonitis, biceps tendonitis, tennis elbow, etc. Another example is simply just turning your torso when exercising or doing a daily activity. Without the proper thoracic mobility, specifically in rotation, the low back will compensate which creates more compression and shear forces in the lumbar spine and can potentially lead to a disc issue.

Exercises to Improve Mobility of Thoracic Spine

Performing simple mobility exercises daily can help improve the thoracic spine mobility and decrease the risk for injury. Below are the top 3 simple mobility exercises to perform that require minimal equipment.

Open Book Stretch

Starting Position: Begin by lying on your side with knees bent and your hands together, directly in front of you.
Movement: Slowly lift your top arm toward the ceiling, rotating through your chest in order to reach as far behind you as possible. Make sure you follow your arm movement with your head and keep your eyes focused on your hand throughout the entire exercise.
Tip: Keep the arm you are reaching with straight throughout the entire exercise.
Repetitions: 10 reps holding the end position for 2-5 seconds.
Frequency: 2x/day


Cat Cow Stretch

Starting position: Begin on your hands and knees with your hands below your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
Movement: Arch the upper portion of your back as much as you can while bringing your head toward your chest. Return to starting position, and immediately arch the lower portion of your spine so that your stomach comes toward the floor while simultaneously raising your head.
Repetitions: 10 reps holding the end position for 2-5 seconds.
Frequency: 2x/day


Spiderman with Thoracic Spine Rotation

Starting Position: Begin in a plank position on your hands.
Movement: Bring one foot up beside your hand, then rotate and reach for the ceiling with that same hand. Drop your hips slightly down towards the floor and hold this stretch for several seconds. Repeat on both sides.
Tips: Breathe in through your nose to ‘fill your belly,’ and move to increase the stretch as you exhale.
Repetitions: 10 reps holding the end position for 2-5 seconds.
Frequency: 2x/day


Physical Therapy and Thoracic Spine Mobility

Physical therapy can be one of the most effective ways to help improve thoracic spine mobility and decrease risk for future injury. A physical Therapist will provide an individualized treatment plan including strengthening and mobility exercises as well as a wide variety of manual therapy techniques to help improve mobility and function.

Physical Therapy in Illinois

If you are experiencing stiffness in the mid-back contact us at Impact Physical Therapy. We have locations throughout the Chicagoland area and Champaign-Urbana offering a wide variety of services to help decrease your pain, improve strength/mobility and overall function. All of our highly-trained clinicians will be able to provide you an individualized program in order to meet your goals and improve your quality of life. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Our offices are open and accepting appointments to provide essential care for our clients. In addition, we are now offering Virtual Visits with a licensed clinician.