Improving T-spine Mobility

Having good t-spine or thoracic mobility is crucial for normal function and optimal performance.  The thoracic spine is the middle/upper part of the back.  The thoracic vertebrae were designed to have a significant degree of inherent mobility. In a lumbar-lock position, normal thoracic mobility is at least 50 degrees in both directions.

However, the t-spine is also prone to stiffness as a result of adaption to our modern lifestyles and/or imbalanced training routines.

In regards to daily function, t-spine mobility is needed any time you reach overhead or behind your back.

With performance oriented activities, movements like overhead pressing as well as lunging, step-ups, and running can be adversely affected by poor t-spine mobility.

In the clinic, I often see poor t-spine mobility manifest itself in neck pain, shoulder pain, and low back pain due to movement compensations. In fact, I often find myself incorporating t-spine mobility work for a wide array of diagnoses.

Below are a few of my favorite mobilization techniques and corrective exercises to improve t-spine mobility.

I always recommend beginning with some sort of bodywork. This may include a joint manipulation or soft tissue release by a physical therapist or chiropractor. It can also include self-mobilization using a foam roller.

After you prep the tissues to move, it’s time get the spine moving.

My first go-to t-spine mobility exercise is the Thoracic Rotation with Rib Grab.

If the above exercise doesn’t do much for you but still are limited with t-spine mobility, try the variation below:

It’s important to note that a mobility exercise not followed by a stability/motor-control activity might be ineffective. In order for mobility to stick, you need to teach your body to use the new range of motion you just gained.

If your t-spine is stiff, keep these movements are part of your routine. You should begin to see slow and steady improvements in your t-spine mobility.

Physical Therapist Dr. Tim Varghese
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Dr. Tim Varghese

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