The Thoracic Spine and Its Role In Preventing Lower Back Pain

When it comes to back pain, the lumbar spine and cervical spine are the two areas that get the most attention, but there is a third section — the thoracic spine — which is located between these two, and which helps support both. The thoracic spine starts at the base of your neck and goes down to the level of your abdomen.

The muscles involved in that part of your spine help you stay upright and are the ones that are responsible for you maintaining proper posture. That means that keeping those muscles strong and flexible is an essential element to keeping your back healthy, to letting you twist and bend, and to allowing you to continue doing all of your daily activities, from walking and sitting to working out.

What do we have to do to make sure our thoracic spine and its supporting structures are strong and healthy?

It starts with using them on a regular basis. We’ve all heard the phrase “use it or lose it”, and if you’ve ever started an exercise regimen after months (or years) of not working out, you know exactly what it means…. and how much what you haven’t used can hurt once you start using it again!

Life as a couch potato – whether by choice or having been forced out by injury – has a significant impact on the mobility of your thoracic spine, and that can lead to an impact on your lumbar spine, and to a lesser degree your cervical spine too. Lack of support in the middle means an imbalance above and below.

What does mobility in the middle of your spine have to do with an injury to other parts of your spine?

The less the part that is made to move is able to move, the more it forces the other parts (which are meant to be more stable) are forced to move. In other words, if you can’t twist your thoracic spine, it forces your lumbar spine to move more than it’s supposed to, and that puts pressure on those discs that they were not made to withstand. That leads to degeneration, herniation and inflammation. The same is true above the thoracic spine, where your neck and shoulders are forced to make up for a lack of mobility.

So what can you do to improve thoracic spine mobility?

According to experts, the best way is to make sure that you’re stretching both before and after working out, though there are also exercises that can specifically target mobility. The key to improving your range of motion is consistency: anybody who has ever worked daily towards being able to touch their toes knows that. Working with a foam roller can help too.

Some of the best exercises for thoracic mobility are the ones that stretch and rotate your back. Try positioning yourself on your hands and knees and doing the cat arch/camel back several times, then move to the exercise known as ‘threading the needle’, in which you start on hands and knees and then lower your left shoulder to the floor, reaching your left hand under your body towards your right side, holding that position, then lifting yourself back and allowing the left hand to point to the ceiling as you open your body towards your left side. Switch sides and repeat.

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