The Thoracic spine consists of 12 vertebrae (T1-12) from the top of the spine to the bottom rib. The boney structure of the Thoracic vertebrae and the attachments to the ribs means that this is the region of the spine with the least range of motion in flexion and extension. Support provided by the Thoracic spine and ribs is essential for protecting our vital internal organs, however, this region of the spine can become notoriously congested. Less range of motion in the Thoracic region can cause an increased range of motion in the Cervical (neck) and Lumbar (lower) spine, which can become problematic over time as these more flexible regions of the spine begin to overcompensate. Here are 4 simple yoga poses and technique that have been most beneficial.
GOOD FOR: Releasing tension in the muscles and connective tissue, Thoracic spine extension and vertebral disc hydration.
You will need a foam roller, block or tightly rolled up mat for this pose. Lie on your back and place the block (or other option) at the back of the ribs under your Thoracic spine. Bend both knees and keep your hips on the floor. Engage your core muscles by cinching in around your waist and drawing your front ribs in. Interlace your fingers and support your head with clasped hands. On your inhale, peel your shoulders and spine off the block. On your exhale, let your spine lower down again. Repeat ten times, moving slowly with your breath.
GOOD FOR: Releasing the tissues on either side of the Thoracic spine to help release tension in the muscles and connective tissue.
You will need two yoga massage or tennis balls for this myofascial release technique. Lie on your back, bend both knees and draw your feet in towards you as if setting up for Bridge pose. Place the balls on either side of the mid Thoracic spine in between the shoulder blades and the boney prominence of the spine. Avoid the actual bones. There are often several points of tension in this region of the spine so listen carefully to your own body until you find a tender spot. Once you have found this point of tension, relax your whole body and allow the balls to sink through the layers of connective tissue and muscle to release tension. Less is more when it comes to myofascial release. If it is too painful and you cannot relax the muscles, you may end up causing more tension – so be mindful of this.
GOOD FOR: Rotation of the Thoracic spine and vertebral disc hydration.
Come into a Table Top position with your knees under hips and hip width apart and shoulders stacked over the wrists. Spread your fingers wide. Keep your neck long and ensure that you are not letting your head drop down. Stabilise your core muscles by cinching in around the waist and drawing your belly button in towards your lower spine. Place your righthand to the back of your head. Keep your belly button pointing down towards the mat and on your inhalation twist your Thoracic spine towards the right. On your exhalation, tap your elbow to the opposite elbow. Repeat for ten breaths on both sides.
GOOD FOR: Thoracic spine extension, strengthening the muscles in this region of the spine and vertebral disc hydration.
Lie on your front with your legs straight. Firm up the muscles in your legs and have your feet hip-width apart with your toes pointing behind you. Firm up in your legs and push down through your pubic bone to engage your core muscles and the support portion of the spine. Place your weight onto your forearms. Ensure that your forearms are parallel to one another with your elbows directly beneath your shoulders. Make sure that your neck is long as you look straight ahead. Hold this pose for 10 deep breaths, breathing in and out through your nose.
Seated Cactus Twist
GOOD FOR: Circulation around the Thoracic spine.
Find a comfortable seat. Raise your arms to the side and bend the elbows into ‘cactus arms’. Sit up tall, cinch in around the waist and relax your shoulders. On your inhalation rotate your Thoracic spine to the right, keeping your belly button pointing straight forward. On your exhalation, rotate your Thoracic spine to the left still with your belly button pointing straight forward. Repeat this for 20 breaths.
Depending on how congested your Thoracic spine is feeling, add one or all of these postures/techniques to the start of your yoga practice to help bring awareness and restore mobility to this region of the upper back. Remember that consistency is key to making a change. If you want to notice a real difference to the range of motion in your Thoracic spine, you will need to practice one or all of these postures on a regular basis.