Thoracic Spine Mobility: Test & Treat


If you’re reading this, then you are probably sitting. More than likely, you’re hunched over your desk, or your phone, or maybe even just on your couch. When we are in these positions, usually we aren’t sitting with the best posture. One aspect of bad posture is the “rounding” of the thoracic spine. The thoracic spine is the section between your cervical spine (neck) and lumbar spine (low back). It’s also the section of the spine where your ribs attach. If you try to excessively round this area, you can look in the mirror and see that you may start to look like the hunchback Quasimodo. For must of us, this isn’t a great look.

Well, I suppose it could be worse?

Problems with “tight” thoracic spine

However, since most of us sit far too often, we then tend to round our thoracic spine far too often. This leads to the section of the spine becoming stiffer and stiffer over time. This can lead to several different issues:

  1. Thoracic spine pain: Basically, if an area becomes stiff, it can often be painful. Maybe it feels like a tight band across your mid-back, or maybe it feels like a “rib is out”.
  2. Neck and/or low back pain: The thoracic spine is supposed to move well. If it doesn’t, this lack of motion will lead to another body part having to move excessively to compensate. This means your neck and/or low back may have to move TOO MUCH for various movements, which can lead to injury in those areas.
  3. Shoulder pain: Put your arms over your head. In order for your shoulders to work properly, you need good thoracic movement. If you don’t, you either have a limited shoulder range of motion or your shoulders are moving too much (like the neck/low back in #2). Many athletes with limited shoulder mobility keep wrenching on their shoulders thinking they are helping themselves. In reality, they are setting themselves up for injury and ignoring the true cause.

Testing & Treating a Tight Thoracic Spine

So almost all of us sit too much, does this mean we all have poor thoracic mobility? No. That’s why you should watch the video below. This will show you a good screen for thoracic mobility. If you pass, don’t worry about your thoracic mobility. But if you fail, you should probably do the exercises so your neck, low back, and shoulders don’t get beat up too much.

If you fail, it’s time to get on those exercises and hopefully you’ll mobility will go from Quasimodo to Tarzan! As always, these exercises should only produce a stretch or strain feeling, anything else and you may need to schedule an appointment. And feel free to check out the other videos in our Test & Treat series: hip flexors, ankle dorsiflexion, and hamstrings/sciatic nerve. Let us know if you have any questions or if there’s another video you would like to see.

Jeff Remsburg, DC, MS, DACBR, Cert. MDT