Our thoracic spine is naturally the least mobile part of our back because, along with the rib cage, it is responsible for protecting our lungs and heart. Too much sitting or standing with bad posture can make our thoracic spine even more immobile and exacerbate kyphosis (hunchback.) When we have a weakened and immobile thoracic spine, we compensate with excessive mobility in the cervical spine (neck) and lumbar spine (lower back.) This can cause back and shoulder pain, poor spinal alignment, and tight chest muscles. It’s important that we take time to create both mobility and strength in our thoracic spine area. Here are 5 exercises you can do for your thoracic spine:
1. Side Lying Windmill Stretch– Lie on your side with your knees bent at 90 degrees. Place a bolster or foam roller in between your legs so that your knees are hip distance apart. Start with your arms straight out with palms together, resting on the floor in front of you at shoulder height. Windmill your top arm up and around your head as you twist your torso to the opposite side while keeping your legs where they are. Your goal is to have both arms stretched out at 180 degrees and both shoulders square on the floor. On each exhale, allow yourself to get deeper into your spinal twist. Slowly bring your top arm back across your body and rotate your torso to your start position. Do 5 times on each side.
2. Bench Stretch– Use any elevated stable surface for this stretch. You may do this standing or on all fours depending on the height of your surface. Get on all fours and place your forearms on the bench with palms facing each other. Shift your weight back into your hips as you drop your chest down towards the floor and bend your arms back behind you. Try to reach your palms to your shoulder blades while keeping your upper arms and elbows on the bench. Hold for 1-2 minutes.
3. T-Spine Rotation– Get down on a fours and sit back onto your heels like in a child’s pose. Place your left forearm on the ground in front of your left knee. Place your right hand behind your head with your elbow reaching down to the ground. Exhale as you rotate your upper back to the right side and open up your right elbow towards the sky. Anchor the left side of your ribs down to your left thigh as you do this to isolate your thoracic spine. Do 10 on each side.
4. Thoracic Bridge– Start on all fours with shoulders over wrists and hips over knees. Keep your abs engaged so that you have a neutral spine. Without changing the shape of your torso, lift your knees slightly off the ground to get into a modified plank position. Lift your right hand off the ground as you simultaneously use your core muscles to bring your left leg under and across your body. Rotate your hips up and squeeze your glutes into a bridge position while placing your left foot on the ground. With your left hand still on the ground, reach your right arm to your left to create a twist in your torso. Reverse the movement with your left leg and place your right hand back on the ground to your start position. Repeat on the other side. Do 5 on each side.
5. Back Extension with Rotation– Strengthen the muscles throughout your back and along your spine with this exercise. Lie face down on the ground and place one hand on top of another under your forehead, palms down. Squeeze your glutes and press your hips into the ground. Engage your lats by pulling your shoulder blades down your back. Use your abs to pull your navel to spine and think of lengthening your lower back as you lift your upper body off the ground. Keep your neck in line with your spine and your forehead glued to your hands. Continue to pull the front of your rib cage down and together to prevent crunching your lower spine. Slowly rotate your entire upper back to the right. Squeeze your right shoulder blade back to open up your right elbow up towards the sky. Return to center without lowering your upper body and repeat on the left. Return to center and lower your upper body down. Do 10 times.
These 5 exercises should be done several times a week, if not daily, for optimal spinal health.
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