Flex, Extend, Rotate!

Thoracic Spine Health for Improved Posture


Thoracic spine mobility is a hot topic among trainers and practitioners because of the healthy benefits of having good movement in this area. A lack of mobility in the upper back is often linked to poor posture, restricted mobility of the upper limbs and, on occasions, different pathologies of the body (headaches, muscle spasms and respiriatory restrictions). The thoracic region is made up of the spine, ribcage and diaphragm. This is ultimately the mid-torso region and all soft tissue that resides. The thoracic can flex and extend, laterally flex and rotate.

Let us remind ourselves of what good posture is. 'Good' posture follows the centre of gravity line passing through the ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle. This line is used as a reference from which we can view any deviation such as forward shoulders, forward head posture and excessive kyphosis (bending of the spine).




Rounded shoulder posture (forward)

This is often caused by prolonged periods using computers, sitting at a desk, carrying a backpack and repetitive overhead shoulder movement that doesn’t utilise the full range of motion.

Rounded shoulder posture is typically associated with short pectoral muscles and overstretched rhomboids and mid/lower trapezius. Tension often appears in the upper trapezius which can be pretty uncomfortable! This muscle imbalance leads to an Internal rotation of the humerus (upper arm) and modifies the position of the shoulder blades. Over time, this posture type leads to shoulder pain, crepitus, neck pain, pins and needles, numbness (due to the compression of the nerves) and reduced range of motion. All of this will result in a loss of muscle strength and performance.

Forward head posture

This is often caused by similar prolonged periods as above. Forward head posture is typically associated with shortened upper traps, and neck muscles. This shortening of the muscles compresses the cervical vertebrae and increases their curvature. This posture type leads to shoulder pain, reduced neck mobility, reduced breathing capacity, jaw disorders and thoracic outlet syndrome. Chronic issues could lead to chronic tension headaches and spondylosis (vertebrae stress fracture) due to the compression of the cervical spine.

Rounded back posture (Hyperkyphosis)

Rounded back posture or hyperkyphosis is an increased curve of the thoracic spine which causes a rounded back posture. Most hyperkyphosis cases are due to prolonged periods as previously mentioned above, but chronic hyperkyphosis can lead to structural changes to the vertebrae itself, as well as osteoporosis.

The ligaments shorten on the front aspect of the spine and the the upper abdominal muscles shorten and lead to a compression of the front aspect of the spinal vertebrae. Posterior ligaments on the rear aspect of the spine lengthen and back extensor muscles are overstretched. This posture leads to lower back pain, reduced range of motion and decreased respiratory capacity. Hyperkyphosis is often seen with other postural dysfunctions such as a forward head posture and/or lordosis (inward curvature of the spine).

How to improve Thoracic spine mobility?

Improving thoracic spine mobility requires you to move through the full range of the spine whilst under control. This includes those movements mentioned earlier - full extension, flexion, lateral flexion and rotation.

The initial strategy for starting to improve this mobility is by performing floor-based exercises. By being on the floor, you can isolate the spinal muscles and soft tissue without having to use other muscles whilst you are in kneeling or standing positions etc.

When you achieve full articulation of the spine in these movements, progress onto mobility exercises that are more upright in nature.

An example of thoracic mobility exercises are: Cat/Cows (flexion and extension), lying side bends (lateral flexion and extension) and openbooks (rotation).

Keep on top of your thoracic mobility or it could lead to further musculoskeletal and health issues. If you feel that there is a cause for concern, then get in touch with us, and we can book you in for a consultation with one of our practitioners, spanning sports massage therapy, physiotherapy and corrective exercise.