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:
Thoracic Rotation with Reach
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.
My go-to t-spine stability/motor control corrective is the Trunk Stability Rotation:
If your hips are mobile enough and you have enough core and hip control, you may be able to perform the variation below.
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.