As a society we are plagued with poor posture. We don’t have much of a choice! All of our daily tasks are presented in front of us: desk work, eating, driving, commuting, reading, watching television, gardening, etc. This slouched position can be attributed to many issues affecting people. In our experiences, an immobile thoracic spine (think: upper back) has been linked to poor posture, forward head position, rounded shoulders, rotator cuff problems, neck pain, poor shoulder blade positioning, and low back pain.
Although the above picture is intended for humor, it does paint a pretty accurate picture. Look at the amount of neck (cervical) and upper back (thoracic) forward flexion shown by the individual working at the computer. This is not as exaggerated as you might think. How are you reading this article? Are you sitting at your computer? Are you slouched in a chair? I think it’s safe to say, when it comes to improving thoracic mobility, everyone can use more.
The first step in addressing this common issue is to disassociate the lower back (lumbar spine) and the mid to upper back (thoracic spine). At Solution Fitness, we follow the “Joint By Joint Approach” to training our clients. Within this system, the lumbar spine is intended to be a stable joint and thoracic spine is to provide mobility. Therefore, the majority of spine movement would come from the thoracic spine.
In an exercise environment, as well in day to day life, thoracic extension is vital component to maintaining a “neutral spine”.
Neutral spine is achieved through a synergy between the hip joint, lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine. In order to maintain this neutral position, we generally use the cue “chest up” and “shoulders back.” The concept behind this cue is for the client to perform thoracic extension. New clients generally try to create this extension from the lumbar spine, exhibiting an excessive curve to the lower back.
There is ample evidence identifying a correlation between low back pain and hyper-lordosis (an excessive curve to the lower back). We, therefore, emphasize a stable lumbar spine and teach thoracic spine extension.
In this video, we demonstrate lumbar extension and then thoracic extension.
This an excellent option to get the thoracic spine into a neutral position and prepared for exercise. We recommend this exercise be repeated throughout the day for all clients that spend a great deal of time in a seated position.
We never introduce rotation if someone still presents an exaggerated slouched position.
However, once proper extension is achieved, educating thoracic rotation is beneficial in daily life and sports performance. When discussing spinal rotation, the lumbar spine only allows for 10-15 degrees of movement. However, the thoracic spine is responsible for 50-70 degrees of rotation. People (athletes and the general population) active in rotational sports (golf, baseball, tennis, etc.) may create the majority of their rotation from the lumbar spine, which may lead to low back pain. Effectively training thoracic spine rotation will assist in alleviating this problem.
We generally begin in the side lying position, progress to seated, and kneeling positions. As shown in the following videos.
At Solution Fitness, our corrective-based programs are intended to find the weak link of the body and restore function. Thoracic mobility is one component of improving overall posture and creating healthy movement patterns. Click here for more information on our corrective exercise program.