Written by Dr. Matt Wiest, DC
The thoracic spine is an area of the body that has a lot of attention regarding mobilization demands and rightfully so. With our anterior dominant culture, we spend majority of our day in a “hunched” position creating dysfunctions in many areas of the body. Thoracic mobility exercises may seem simple; however it is very easy to cheat your movements which will only reinforce the problem you started with. Energy leak is common for lack of range in this area in the low back, shoulder, cervical spine and distal. It is important to focus on the right cues when working on improving thoracic range of motion otherwise you could be simply amplifying the problem. If your goal with exercises/poses like threading the needle is to improve range of motion in your thoracic spine but half of your rotation is coming from your lumbar spine, it is defeating the purpose of the drill. Try to be mindful of what your target is and where your intentions are with any accessory work you are doing, or any movement for that matter.
Here are some simple modifications to a well-known thoracic rotation exercise that you can try to avoid scapular winging as a form of compensation for more range of motion in this drill.
- Thoracic Rotation – lay on your side with arms flexed to 90 degrees in front of you. Make sure your leg that is on the ground is straight and your core is stable and strong, keep the space between your rib cage and the front of your pelvis tight to avoid lumbar rotation. Bend your top hip and knee both to 90-degree flexion and place your knee on top of a foam roller or pillow to avoid twisting in the pelvis (keep this knee pressed into the foam roller or pillow for the entire duration of the exercise). With your top arm, open your chest and lay flat on the ground reaching your arm to the other side of the room.
- Thoracic Rotation with Scapular Stability – same as above but add a resistance band in your top hand and wrap it around your rib cage. When you open to end range, load the scapula by drawing it towards the spine and then pressing it out against resistance.
- Thoracic Rotation with GH ROM – now that you have scapular stability down with end range thoracic rotation, play with some range of motion in the GH Joint. Place your open arm on a furniture slider and find the limits to ROM while maintaining the locked scapular position.