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Thoracic Spine: The Green Leafy Vegetable

Your thoracic spine is incredibly important.  Most of us ignore this part of our body. After all, we can barely reach it, right?  A very smart physical therapy instructor once told me that treatment to our thoracic spine is like a green leafy vegetable to our body.  Just about every body can benefit from green leafy vegetables in the same way our thoracic spine can benefit from being worked on.

Why is this barely touched part of our body so darn special?  Well, it’s because it houses some very important structures and when it doesn’t work well, neither does the stuff above it, below it or attached to it.  We spend much of our day sitting or standing slouched forward making this part of our spine very stiff. We rarely bend it backwards or rotate it like it is intended to be moved.  This immobility causes other areas in our spine and upper body to compensate bringing on familiar neck, low back and shoulder pain.

We know that our body is all connected, right?  Of course, that is nothing new.  A fancy phrase for this is “regional interdependence”.  This means that our body was built with joints that are both mobile and stable.  All of our joints can do both, move and provide stability, but some were intended to operate more one way then the other.  When they don’t, we compensate and this may eventually lead to pain or lack of function.

Our thoracic spines are supposed to be mobile.  However, our lovely technology and day jobs, often restrict this motion by making our joints stiff and our muscles tight.  Our brains even forget how to use this part of our body.  This results in excessive lower back, neck and shoulder blade motion. Yep, some of the most common areas for people to hurt.  All of these body parts are supposed to be more stable.  Hence, the incredibly important concepts of core stabilization and postural awareness.

Soooo….how do we fix this?  Well, come see me!  I am a movement specialist (and physical therapist) and would be happy to evaluate your motion, or lack there of.  I can give your spine some “green leafy vegetable” treatment with both manual therapy and exercise.   In the meantime, try the following exercises to loosen up your probably stiff thoracic spine. Your low back, neck and shoulders will thank you!

You will want to gradually get your body used to these movements. I suggest you start out with 5 reps in each direction 1x/day.  Build yourself up to 1-2 sets of 10.  This is a great warm up prior to your workout or activity.  Don’t forget to get out of your slumped postures throughout your day too.  Now, do what your mom always said…EAT YOUR VEGGIES!

(Just click on each pic and you’ll be brought to a page with a video and great instructions.)

T-Spine Rotation with Rib Grab by FMS

T-Spine Rotation with Active Reach by FMS

Quadruped T-Spine Rotation by FMS


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