14 Jan 5 vital thoracic spine mobilizations to save your neck and shoulders
Get That Thoracic Spine Moving
For those with chronic shoulder and neck pain, patients are often left wondering why? Why is it that all of a sudden pain suddenly comes with no major trauma? Or why is it that with recurrent treatment on those respective regions, they still hurt? For both instances, I think that part of the root cause of the problem might be the part of the body most closely approximated, the THORACIC SPINE. It is another example of a concept I have discussed before; the source of the pain may not be the cause of the problem.
Whether owing to a lack of training, stretching or a society that has us constantly bend forward, most people do not have enough proper thoracic spine extension. Improving thoracic spine extension is something I work with my patients on extensively for helping to treat and cure both neck and shoulder problems. Consider the following and it is easy to see why.
With 12 thoracic vertebrae, each supporting an intricate pairing of ribs, the thoracic spine supports and orients the cervical spine and heavy skull. Through the bond between the ribs and the shoulder-blade forming the scapulothoracic “joint” (where the shoulder-blade shifts on the back of the rib cage), the thoracic spine is also important for its positioning of the shoulder, often dictating how it is and is not able to move.
As an example, a more forward tilted and flexed thoracic spine, will lead to a more forward tilted shoulder-blade. This is a considerable problem that I, and other researchers have found can be associated with shoulder impingement syndromes and shoulder pain. Given that about 50% of the movement of the shoulder complex comes from this movement of the shoulder-blade floating on the rib cage, we definitely need to ensure that the rib cage and thoracic spine possess the ability to move properly and be in the correct position to allow for a fully functional shoulder. The point is the healthier the upper thoracic spine, the healthier the shoulder.
The same can be said for the neck with respect to the mid-back. Like a carrot leading a horse, the thoracic spine points the head and neck where to go. The better the ability for the thoracic spine to extend and remain upright, the better the posture of the neck, and the easier it is for the head to remain upright. Try it for yourself, if you flex the upper back forward, it is difficult to keep the head upright and becomes painful really quickly. Picture a grandmother or grandfather who may have a very curved mid back that aims the neck nearly parallel to the ground. It is going to be touch for this person to be able to look to the sky right.
So whether preventative or to treat current neck and shoulder pain, the following are some great thoracic spine mobilization exercises that are safe and effective. Do them daily for a month and you will be amazed at how much better you feel, your posture improves and maybe fix a current injury in the process.
Cat-Cow – repeat each cycle 10 times to warm up the spine
Prayer Stretch Progression
T-Spine Rotation – From the neutral position, rotate the spine and look to the sky and gently oscillate at your end range each side for 15 seconds over 3 repetitions
Modified prayer ball stretch