Thoracic spine health and flexibility is very important and plays a vital role in a person’s health, posture, range of movement, and well-being.
Unfortunately, as the thoracic spine is placed under such tremendous stress by the rigours of daily life, it can easily become immobile or misaligned.
Everything from poor posture and muscular imbalances to accidents and injuries are able to cause thoracic limitations that can dramatically affect your quality of life and ability to carry out even simple tasks.
However, while the thoracic spine can easily be impaired by all manner of different things, improving the health of the thoracic spine is a little more complicated.
It isn’t that the methods are overly challenging, rather, people simply don’t know what they are or how to safely perform them.
With that in mind, we are now going to take a closer look at the thoracic spine and the essential roles it plays, as well as a number of exercises that can keep it as healthy as possible.
So, if you are struggling with thoracic spine issues or simply want to take preventative measures to ensure you don’t run in to any problems, I highly suggest reading on.
What Is The Thoracic Spine?
The thoracic region of the spine is the portion of the middle back that runs between your shoulder blades and includes the T1 to T12 vertebrae.
It is located directly below the cervical spine and above the lumbar spine.
The main job of the thoracic spine is to control your overhead range of motion, while it also plays a major role in a person’s posture.
Poor thoracic spine health and alignment can lead to shoulder pain and limited movement in the arms and upper back.
The central location of the thoracic spine also makes it perhaps the most important region of the spine, as its range of movement effects major parts of the other sections.
This means thoracic spine health and flexibility is extremely important to a person’s overall health and wellbeing.
Why Thoracic Mobility Is Important
Many people, both young and old, suffer from thoracic spine mobility issues, so it is an issue that is important to address, before it becomes a major problem.
Thoracic mobility is important as it is a central section of your spine, meaning issues in this region can lead to a lack of mobility throughout your entire torso.
Improving your thoracic mobility can improve posture, increase quality of life, and make everyday activities notably easier to complete.
As around 13 to 15 degrees of thoracic extension is required to reach full shoulder flexion, ensuring you have good thoracic mobility will boost your overhead mobility and can be used to prevent or treat shoulder and back pain.
The increased range of motion in the region can even improve the efficacy of many shoulder exercises.
Thoracic Mobility Exercise List
While thoracic mobility can be improved with a series of drills, exercises, and stretches, it will take time and consistency.
It is also important to select the correct exercises, with the main focus needing to be on the anterior delts, lats, pec major, pec minor, and teres major.
The following thoracic mobility exercise list features a number of options that should be able to provide health benefits for the majority of people with issues in the thoracic region of their spine, no matter how big or small they may be.
T Spine Rotation
The t spine rotation is an exercise that sees you begin by positioning yourself on all fours, with your knees under your hips, hands under your shoulders, and spine in a neutral position.
Raise one hand and place it on either your upper back or the back of your neck, depending on how flexible you are.
Slowly begin to rotate your torso and drop the elbow of your raised arm towards the opposing hand.
Make sure not to pull on your neck, instead focusing on using your eyes and head to lead.
Once you have brought your elbow as close to your hand as you comfortably can, begin to raise the elbow up and out as far as possible, opening the chest out to the other side.
Hold the stretch for a second before continuing to perform the desired number of reps.
Upon completion, switch hands and repeat on the other side.
Seated Thoracic Extension
The seated thoracic extension begins by taking a seated position in a sturdy, rigid chair.
Make sure to sit up straight, with your shoulders locked back and down, and place your hands behind your head.
Slowly lean backwards and extend your upper back over the top of the chair until you feel a stretch, making sure you go as far as you can without causing any pain.
Hold the position for 5 to 10 seconds before slowly easing out and repeating for the desired number of reps.
Cat Cow Thoracic Flexion
Cat cow thoracic flexion begins in the same manner as the t spine rotation, with you positioning yourself on all fours, with your knees under your hips, hands under your shoulders, and spine in a neutral position.
Lift your head and lower your pelvis, so your lower back drops and your tailbone sticks up.
As your stomach slowly lowers towards the floor, make sure to keep your core engaged the entire time.
After holding the position for a few seconds, slowly move in the opposite direction, bringing your head down, arching your back, and tucking your tailbone in.
Upon completion, proceed to repeat the entire sequence between 5 and 10 times.
Anterior Pelvic Tilt
To begin the anterior pelvic tilt, lay on your back on the floor, with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
Suck your naval in towards your spine, then roll your pelvis upwards and push it towards the ceiling, making sure to keep your glutes and hip muscles engaged the entire time.
Hold the position for 5 seconds and repeat for between 10 and 20 repetitions.
Take a short rest before repeating, with the aim being to complete between 3 and 5 sets.
A thoracic windmill is the first exercise on the list that can include the use of an additional piece of equipment, that being a foam roller.
It begins with you lying on your side, arms out in front of your body. Bend the top knee 90 degrees, bringing it towards your chest.
You can rest it on a foam roller to receive added support if you desire. Keep the bottom leg extended out straight, in line with the rest of your body.
Keeping your legs in position and hip flat on the ground, raise the top hand up and over the body, opening your chest and twisting the thoracic spine.
Continue until the arm lies flat on the floor on the other side of the body, following the motion with your eyes to keep your spine in alignment.
Hold for a few seconds before slowly returning to the starting position. Complete 10 repetitions then switch sides and do the same again.
Foam Roller Thoracic Extension
While you could choose to use a foam roller when performing the thoracic windmill, it is a requirement for the foam roller thoracic extension.
Begin by lying on your back with a foam roller positioned under your upper back in the thoracic spine area.
Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, while allowing your head to fall back slightly until you feel a small stretch in your neck.
Lift your butt off the ground slightly and begin to roll back and forth, moving your feet to keep the foam roller on the thoracic spine section throughout.
When you reach any tight or painful areas, continue to roll slowly back and forth over the affected region until the pressure is relieved.
Other Alternatives For Improving Thoracic Spine Health
While the thoracic spine exercises listed above should be sufficient for the vast majority of people to rectify any issues or stop them from occurring in the first place, people with a significant impairment may need to take things to another level.
Thankfully, there are plenty of options available to you in this instance, whether you need to decompress your spine, improve your posture, or rectify any muscular imbalances.
The most obvious option would be a more dedicated mobility program or course.
As opposed to individual exercises, these are routines carefully instructed by professionals that feature movements in a specific sequence, to help you get the maximum benefits from performing them.
Another possibility is to purchase a mobility tool to help enhance the experience from your own mobility routines.
These will usually be simple items that can improve the effects of a stretch or get into the worst knots and misalignments and help to rectify them.
The final alternative available is to use a dedicated stretching machine. These are machines that are designed to stretch a specific part of your body.
While effective, these machines are somewhat uncommon, as well as large and expensive. That means, for most people, they will usually be left as a last resort.
By this point, there should be no doubt in your mind about the importance of the thoracic spine or why that is.
Similarly, you should have a good idea about how to safely perform some of the best thoracic spine exercises there are.
While our list is by no means exhaustive and there are plenty of other thoracic mobility exercises out there, it should provide plenty of options to keep your thoracic spine functioning to the highest level.
So, whether you are currently suffering from a thoracic spine impairment or simply want to take preventative action to stop one occurring, you now have all the tools to maximise your spinal health, as well as your overall wellbeing and quality of life.