How to really Improved Thoracic Mobility

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This is my first post back for a very long time. I’ve re branded under my own name instead of the functional therapist, but you probably don’t care. You just want “da good stuff”, you want to know how to improve your thoracic mobility. WELL, you came to the right place. So i’ll shut up and keep writing.

How to improve mobility of any joint.

In order to improve mobility, you must first challenge a joint to adapt. By giving a joint a specific type of input consistently over a period of time, it has no choice but to respond by laying down new tissue. This new tissue will have much better flexibility and strength, as long as the input is right. Fibroblasts, which are the bodies tissues producers, align themselves along the line of maximum strain, so you want to make sure that your laying tissue along the right lines (1-2).

Input comes a couple of ways, lifting weights is an input. If you consistently do heavy bench press your pecs have no choice but to lay down more tissue that is stronger. If you consistently spend all day sitting in a chair and never moving your thoracic spine that is an input your body will adapt to by becoming stiffer and less flexible.

Input matters A LOT, because it tells your body what you want it to DO.

Secondly what matters is the anatomy of the joint:

for example the hips and shoulders are ball and socket joints that respond best to rotation. This rotation effectively “unglues” the heads of the humerus/femur from the cup and allows it to move much more freely through flexion/extension/ abduction ETC. This stuff is much more complicated than my 2 cents that I’ve written and I’ll go into that in some more detail in a future post.  For now just remember that working on a joints fundamental motions and tissues will yield the best results. As is the case of shoulders/hips, improving internal and external rotation often also improves flexion/extension and all the other ranges.

Pictures of Ball and Socket Joint 828

In order to improve the thoracic spine we must understand its anatomy first. The spine has Facet joints that effectively link them all together in a chain. As you progress from the neck to the coccyx the orientation changes due to the different stresses and strains that are placed on these joints and what they are needed to do.

The Thoracic spine is angled at roughly 60 degrees, much like a roof tile. Where as the lumbar spine is angled at 90 degrees much more like a pillar.
The Thoracic spine is angled at roughly 60 degrees, much like a roof tile. Where as the lumbar spine is angled at 90 degrees much more like a pillar.

Anatomy of the thoracic spine

The thoracic spine has facet joints that look like roof tiles sitting on top of one another, the most motion that can occur based on their orientation is in flexion. There will be a limit to the amount of extension that is able to occur at the thoracic spine. If you want to stretch the facet joints you need the thoracic spine to FLEX. Flexion is a fundamental motion that needs to occur for most other movements to occur in the thoracic spine.

We have spent so long try to fix peoples thoracic spines by getting them into more and more extension, we have forgotten that very few people function in extension. Boxers and throwing athletes spend more time in flexion and rotation than in extension. Think about your day to day activities and try to think about how much time you actually spend in thoracic extension. It’s not alot, normal posture (sitting and standing) is more flexion based due to anatomy and most activities through the day need thoracic flexion to occur. I’m not saying thoracic extension isn’t important, of course it is. But when we are looking for the most BANG for our proverbial Spinal Buck (not a new cryptocurrency), Flexion is where we should be looking. Dr Michael Chivers gave a fantastic synopsis of this at one of the FR seminars recently. If you have taken any of the FR courses you can access this video through the newsletter.

The more mobility and strength you have over this range of motion the more options you have for movement and the better you are able to cope IN the range of motion. If you suck at flexing your thoracic spine, you’re back will most likely start to ache when you need spend a block of time sitting or flexed forward.

What to do about it

GET FLEXING (and segmenting)

Start by improving flexion of the thoracic spine.

Spend a few weeks doing this consistently and your joint tissues will start to change. Remember you need input consistently to make a change.

From here spend some time working on segmental flexion and extension so that you learn to control each vertebra.

Give these a try and let me know what you think in the comments below. Remember to subscribe to my blog for updates about new articles that will be coming up in the future, and check out my social media channels for daily doses of goodness.

References

[1] Franchi et al., “Fascicle Length Does Increase in Response to Longitudinal Resistance Training and in a Contraction-Mode Specific Manner.”

[2] Eastwood et al., “Effect of Precise Mechanical Loading on Fibroblast Populated Collagen Lattices.”

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