Your thoracic spine (t-spine) is the upper and mid back. It joins the cervical spine (neck) and extends down past the bottom of the shoulder blades, where it connects with the lumbar spine (the low back). It’s what your ribs connect to.
Maintaining, and where necessary, regaining, your mobility through this range of your back is important for spinal health, posture, breathing and the ability to move well through your shoulders. Unfortunately, due to extended periods of time sitting hunched over a keyboard and generally crappy posture, the natural ability to rotate and extend through this section of your back is often lost.
To see how this can negatively impact you, try this:
Stand tall, chest up and shoulders back. Now reach overhead and note how far you can go. With straight arms, your biceps should be in line with your ears.
Now slump forwards, letting your upper back hunch a bit. Try reaching overhead now and you’ll notice how hard it becomes to come close to your previous mark.
If you’re like that all the time, not all is lost. You can regain the ability to extend and rotate through your T spine with a couple of great drills done regularly and some strengthening work on your back muscles.
Also, stop hunching, sit up straight dammit!
Here are 2 drills that can help
The kneeling t-spine rotation.
The typical way I coach this one is kneeling with your butt on your heels, but I’ve noticed people still shift their weight in order to get more rotation. Effectively cheating through their low backs. Also if rotation is limited, movement at the moving shoulder is substituted in. This makes it look like you are getting further, when in fact, you are just waving your elbow around (Video 1).
You’ll notice a few things wrong here:
• First of all, I’m going way too fast.
• I’m only actually rotating to about 45 degrees.
• I’m collapsing onto my supporting shoulder, instead of pushing the ground away. And,
• What I’m lacking in trunk rotation, I’m making up for in elbow flapping.
A better version.
By making a couple of small changes I can lock my hips in place, and use breathing techniques to increase the range of movement I get.
- Set up on one knee with the other leg out straight, rock back till your butt hits your heels. You get a bonus adductor/ hamstring stretch.
- With your supporting arm, push the floor away.
- Rotate upwards, breathing in as you go. Really fill your lungs.
- When you reach your rotation limit, breathe out, all the way out, and try to get some more movement.
- When you reach that limit, take a big breath in, really try to fill the lungs on your top side and get a little more movement.
By using the breathing pattern outlined you can improve how well your ribs contract and expand to aid rotation. As you breathe out, your ribs contract and squeeze down, aiding the rotation on the supporting side. This leaves the ribs on the topmost side free to expand on the next inhalation, further aiding your ability to rotate through your torso.
The side lying rotation.
This next drill is another great option that I often see done so poorly, it might as well be skipped entirely. Again with most of the movement coming from trying to get the back of the moving hand to the floor instead of trying to get the back of the shoulder to the floor.
The first section of the video shows a poor version of the drill. I’m basically waving my arm around without getting much rotation at all.
The second section fo the video, shows me doing the movement using the breathing technique outlined above, focussing on getting more torso rotation and aiming to get my shoulder blade to the floor.
In addition to using the breathing idea, I’m also pinning my top leg to the foam roller I’m using as a support, (not easy to see in the video). This limits the ability to cheat through my low back/ hips, in much the same way as the kneeling set up did in the first drill.
Regardless of which option you use, use the following breathing pattern to help you improve the rotation you get, not just through the thoracic spine, but through the whole trunk.
- Lock your hips in position.
- Rotate as far as you can with full lungs.
- Breathe out forcefully, squeezing down your ribs. Get a little more rotation.
- Breathe in, aiming to expand the ribs on the moving side.
- Rotate a little further.