My neck hurts as I…..; my low back hurts as I squat. My shoulders hurt as I press overhead. These are common complaints that I hear from my online clients, in person and of course my fellow fitness fans. Although there can be many reasons as to why a person has pain in any given movement pattern. There may be overuse in a muscle in the chain due to imbalances and compensations or even just the old-fashioned reason of poor form as a person trains that movement. There also may be a serious medical condition such as cancer or the like. So as always if you have pain present especially if it is chronic, see your doctor.

However, this post is not about that type of pain especially since I am not a trained medical professional. This post will show you how to reduce discomfort in a movement by learning how to get your thoracic spine moving in the ways that it should; both in extension and rotation. The result of this new mobility will help you move better, feel better and could quite possibly make you stronger and more conditioned in the long run!

The t-spine or the thoracic spine is composed of 12 vertebrae and has an absolute important function in just about every exercise. The T-spine must either extend or rotate in our human movements, such as: gait (running/ walking) squatting, lunging as well as other movement patterns and exercise.

You probably now can see that if this area has too much dysfunction that it can affect the surrounding areas and create potentially dangerous compensation in other movement patterns and exercises. In other words lack of mobility and stability in this area can lead to injury in places such as: the low back, neck or potentially other areas as well by creating undue strain in another area as a result of the aforementioned dysfunction. 

So then you see that if it is not functioning well we will want to make it better by specific drills to do so. Not just from a health perspective but problems in this area can also lead to poor performance in your training or in your chosen sport. So sometimes mobility in conjunction with stability work followed by re-patterning; can lead to better strength gains in people who are training and having some difficulty getting better at their pursuit.

The way that the thoracic spine moves:

Your mid-back is designed to move in two ways and if you are extremely deficient in them your chances of getting injured are much higher.

The first movement is rotation.

Your middle spine should be able to rotate almost equally from side to side. This movement is seen in walking, running and in many lifting moves. Failure to rotate well here can lead to all kinds of problems and pain in any area that the movement pattern involves. For example if you cannot rotate form you thorax, you will rotate too much form somewhere else as I wrote about earlier.

Good                                                                                               You’ll need some work

wpid-20150704_085802.jpg                  wpid-20150704_085822.jpg

The second move is extension.

This movement mostly happens at the lower part of this area. once again failure to have this movement in the t-spine will usually lead to ugly overhead form, possible injury and overuse of the low back in order to try to extend and to get in the right position for overhead work.

Good                                                                                       You’ll need some work

wpid-20150704_085851.jpg          wpid-20150704_085901.jpg

Fixing these issues:

First thing first there should be some kind of assessment to find out if your t-spine is the problem. Then from there, a break down should take place to find the one of more things that can be corrected to improve these movement patterns.

Step One: Check breathing:

Lack of proper breathing patterns can create tightness in your neck, upper back, chest as well as other areas in our bodies. To see if you are breathing well stick one of your hands on your chest and one on your belly. Take a breath in through your nose and see what moves first and what area you are breathing into.

Then place your thumbs on your back and other fingers in the front of you. Once again take a breath in and see what is moving as a result of your breathing.

Did your chest rise up first? Did you feel it in your neck? If so you have dysfunctional breathing and will want to make it better.

Not having these qualities in our training can lead to injury and most likely will keep you from getting the results that you want from your fitness training. So don’t be one of those people who don’t spend time on training joint mobility.

Step Two:  Check your rotation:

This post is geared towards people who are doing a self assessment and don’t necessarily have someone to look at their t-spine function. In light of that, the following assessment you can do yourself, if you are simply aware of your position and breathing as you do it.

Step Three: Cervical rotation/ extension

At times due to the closeness of a person’s neck to their t-spine, one can compensate for another. This can lead to lots of tightness in a person’s neck and possible injury as the person works out.

Good                                                                                          You’ll need some work

wpid-20150704_085943.jpg            wpid-20150704_085952.jpg

wpid-20150704_090001.jpg               wpid-20150704_090010.jpg

Step Four: Check your extension

As I stated earlier, your mid-back shouldn’t be able to just rotate but also extend as well. Failure to do so often leads to the dreaded rib-cage flair,  low back pain, shoulder instability and not being able to live up to your full potential as a lifter! (Oh-no!)

Finally: fix what is going on.

Drills to improve these movement issues:

Breathing:

Rotation:

Neck drills:

Extension:

Taking care of this area doesn’t guarantee that you will never be hurt, but not taking care of it is to leave things up to chance and most likely not end up living up to your potential in fitness. So make sure that you spend time on these drills especially the ones that you need the most improvement in. If you don’t you are simply a slacker! (J/K) But, really, you are!
🙂

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Comments
  1. […] Getting fit for the Long run series: The T-spine, August 13, 2015 […]

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