The 12 vertebrae located in the middle of the back is known has the thoracic spine (t-spine). As your t-spine sits in the middle of your lumbar (5 vertebrae of the lower back) and cervical (7 vertebrae of the neck) spine, lack of proper function can lead to low back trauma, shoulder dysfunction, breathing dysfunction, neck pain and even headaches. The t-spine area needs functional movement. Flexion, extension, and rotation should come from this joint. Because of lack of activity, sitting, poor posture and inefficient movement qualities, the t-spine becomes locked and immobile causing the joints up or below to take the unwanted movement, thus causing irritation and pain. The lumbar spine should have very limited movement. In fact, the lumbar spine should only have 13 degrees of rotation. The cervical spine should remain stable and stay away from excessive movement. When the t-spine is dysfunctional and not doing its job, the movement shifts to the lumbar or cervical spine.
During rotational sports like baseball, golf and tennis, if there is t-spine dysfunction, there will be major compensation going on leading to shearing force on your low spine and ultimately cause injury. In our exercise routine we must implement movements that promote healthy spine hygiene, thoracic spine function, lumbar spine stability, rotator cuff strengthening and hip mobility to keep our lower, mid and upper spine healthy and functional.
Exercises that promote t-spine mobility:
1. T-spine rotations: simply get on all 4’s, keep your trunk strong, place one hand behind the head, rotate inward and touch the elbow to opposite elbow and then rotate outward, giving a big exhale as you move. Repeat 10 repetitions on each side.
2. Wall slides: stand with your back on the wall, slightly bend your knees, place your arms on the wall, making a W, slowly move your arms up as high as they can go, then move them down feeling your shoulder blades move down and together. Perform 10 repetitions.
3. T-spine extension: hold a pvc pipe with your hands, place your elbows on a bench, drive your chest down to the ground, giving a big exhale as you reach the full movement. Perform 10 repetitions.
4. Seated t-spine rotations: sit tall on a box or bench, grasp both your hands behind your head keeping your elbows back, keeping your posture, rotate one direction and exhale and then rotate other direction and exhale. Perform 20 turns.