Thoracic stiffness is a common ailment we see in the clinic and our current lifestyle of sitting at work, looking at laptops, tablets and phones might be to blame. Looking down, rounded shoulders and a lack of mid-back strength all lead to your thoracic spine slowly stiffening up. It won’t happen overnight but it will happen, and eventually this will lead to reduced mobility around the shoulder. Reduced mobility around the shoulder can lead to neck pain, shoulder impingement and rotator cuff strains. The problem is, we don’t notice our stiff thoracic spine until we hit the gym and start to try and push our shoulder into positions where we may no longer have the mobility to go.
So rather than trying to fix the neck or the shoulder impingement, I want you to start thinking about prevention, and make thoracic mobility exercises a normal part of your daily routine. You need a few minutes, a ball, a foam roller and a little bit of space.
Firstly, a quick test to see if a stiff or tight thoracic is limiting your shoulder movement. Stand with your back and head up against a wall, trying to make sure the entirety of your back is on the wall from tailbone to shoulder blade. Now lift your arms straight up, trying to touch the wall over your head. If you do this and your back, especially your rib cage lifts away from the wall, it’s likely that your thoracic spine is limiting your shoulder mobility.
There is plenty you can do yourself at home or at the gym to change this and all you need is your foam roller and a mat.
The first exercise you can do is the open book, which you can see here. This is a good exercise for mobilising the mid-thoracic joints and muscles.
For the next exercise, you need to lie along the foam roller, and keeping your back on the foam roller, especially the ribs, lift your arms over your head. Here we are moving the upper thoracic spine. The foam roller will give you feedback and allow you to work on maintaining your position.
Finally, you can work on opposing your day of sitting at your desk. Turn the foam roller perpendicular to your spine, and lie across it, roughly at the level of your shoulder blade. Support your neck by holding your head in your hands, lift your hips off the ground, roll the foam roller up your shoulders and back down your rib cage. At any point, you feel stiff or tight, you can stop and slowly lower your shoulders and head down mobilising that joint.
There should never be any pain doing these movements, if there is stop immediately. If you have any questions about improving your shoulder mobility ask.
If you are struggling to “loosen up” your thoracic spine you might need a bit more help. Come in and see one of our Bend + Mend Physio’s at our Martin Place or Barangraoo – King Street Wharf clinics.