The Thoracic Spine
What? …..Where?……. Why? ….I hear you cry.
Ignore the Thoracic Spine and you might regret it later on.
We talk quite a bit about the low back, perhaps this is due to the fact that so many people have aches and pains in the lumbar spine. We complain about sore necks and headaches and I definitely see people with problems around the shoulder joint. Could a lack of movement in your thoracic spine be causing some of your other problems?
Do you look in the mirror and see slumped shoulders or notice that it is an effort to stand up tall? Just take a look at the picture, everything that one of your ribs attaches to at the back, is part of the thoracic spine.
Things change over time, not over night. We just don’t notice that it is much harder to keep the chest lifted when picking things up, or that a shoulder is a bit sore, so we stop moving it as far. Perhaps you had an accident and hurt a rib or two, they don’t hurt now, so its all better, right? Well actually no, you need to work to maintain the movement in the spine or regain it after injury.
I talked about flexibility in the hips last week, the thoracic spine is probably next in line for needing good mobility. Something I notice often is my students lack of awareness of the back of the body (the spine), and if this student also has pain, a tendency to ignore it until it hurts exists. If we can’t see it, we tend to ignore it.
Our spines have great potential for movement – We should feel the joy of being able to bend forwards and backwards, we should be able to bend to the side and twist enough to fix the leak under the sink.
Flexibility is being able to move all your joints with their unique differences through their full range of motion. If we stop moving an area because of injury, pain or perhaps we slouch when sitting, the area will adapt. Restrictions happen, this might even have an affect on your breathing. If the spine lacks movement, the ribs are going to lack motion. We move less as we feel more fatigued, our ability to focus, even our emotions can be affected. Because the decreases in movement creep up on us, we are blissfully unaware of any problems until something goes wrong, something breaks.
I am at a desk writing this. A desk that is far too low. As I was writing the paragraph above, I sat upright, guess what, it was an effort. I had a bit of a wriggle (technical term for flexing, rotating, side bending and most importantly extending) of the spine. It was a little creaky, clicky to start. I feel a little taller now, the other thing I noticed, I took a deeper breath. Gosh, what hope do you have if me, the person that has been educating people about movement for the last 20+ years can’t remember all the things spoken about in class.
The ribs attach at the front to the sternum and sweep around to the back of the body and join the spine. The spine should be able to move independently of the ribs and vice versa. We also think of our ribs as a cage, and quite rightly so after all it has the job of containing the heart and yes it needs to be stable to support the diaphragm in it’s job as the muscle of breathing. A dynamic cage or as one of my teachers Thomas Myers likes to call it “a rib basket”. A basket is both protective, but malleable at the same time, and to keep this malleability we need to move this area of the spine.
So check this out
Have a look at your posture in a mirror, front and side on.
What do you notice?
And now stand with your back against a wall.
- What touches and what does not touch.
- How hard or easy is it to get all areas to touch or even just to smooth the curves or lessen the gaps that are there?
- Notice your height, the length of your waist and your neck.
Give your self a moment or two and take some breaths.
- Where does the breath go, how full is the breath
- What affect does it have on your neck, your shoulders?
- Does your breath reach your tummy and pelvis?
Now try some of these movements.
I would suggest doing 6-10 repetitions of each. Try to only move as far as is comfortable. The movement should flow and aim to keep a nice easy breathing pattern going.
Give yourself time to notice what moves easily and what seems a bit stiff or stuck.
Can you do something to ease this?
There are many joints in this area of the spine, especially when you include the rib connections to the spine and then the muscles and soft tissue around the spine and between each of the ribs.
It might take a while for everything to soften, but as it does you should start to notice a reduction in the jerkiness of a movement.
The quality and possibly the range will improve.
Once you have done the movements, go back to the check this out section.
What things do you notice?
“You are only as young as your spine is flexible”