Physiotherapist shares 4 thoracic spine stretches for the back

IF YOU ARE Vaulted on a computer all day, your back is probably crying out for a bit movement. And there’s one specific place you should target: your thoracic spine.

Your thoracic spine, or T-spine, is the area commonly referred to as the middle back. You probably feel it bend as you lean closer and closer to your computer keyboard throughout the day, or as you lean over the steering wheel of your car during a long drive.

Philip Tam, PT, DPTof Tailor-made treatmentsshows a series of stretches that will open up this central part of the spine and allow you to relax again.

What is your thoracic spine?

The thoracic spine consists of 12 vertebrae (the bones that stack together to create the spine, labeled T1 through T12 among medical professionals). It extends from the base of your neck to where the waist ends. This part of the spine sets the building block for the majority of your core. Your shoulder blades and rib cage both connect to your spine in a T-shape, creating an important safety mechanism for vital organs like your heart and lungs.

Most of your twisting movements come from this area. It has the greater range of rotational motion than the other sections of your spine. When you turn around to check your blind spot before changing lanes, that’s your T-spine spine spinning.

Who benefits from the T-spine stretch?

Well, pretty much everyone. That said, people who practice throwing sports and those who sit most of their day will particularly benefit from dedicated T-spinal stretches.

If you have a desk job, you probably T-round your spine too often. It would be good to incorporate these stretches several times into your day to make sure you stay loose. Athletes who specialize in the throwing motion, like pitchers and quarterbacks, make a ton of vertebral rotation when throwing. These moves are beneficial for warming up or cooling down, to gain some extra spin.

When trying these moves, be sure to stretch only where you still feel comfortable. If you experience pain with any of these movements, see a physical therapist or your doctor for further evaluation.

4 Best T-Shaped Spine Mobility Stretches

open book

Tam recommends this move to those who spend most of their days in the office. Use this stretch to break up long periods of sitting. It’s a great way to get the spine moving and blood flowing to the middle of the back.

  • Start by lying on your side, with a foam roller or pillow supporting your upper leg.
  • Stack the shoulders and stretch the arms out in front.
  • Open the chest by rotating the upper arm up and around the body.
  • Exhale when you feel the stretch.
  • Aim for 10 reps.

quadruped rotation

This one is for athletes who need rotation to propel their throws. Warm up with this movement to prepare the spine for the movement.

  • Start on your hands and knees, bringing the hips towards the heels.
  • Take one arm behind your head.
  • Open your elbows and follow the movement with your eyes.
  • Go back inside.
  • Aim for 12 to 15 reps on each side.

preacher stretch

Here’s one for people who lift weights. This move is great for warming up for overhead presses or squats because it opens the mid-to-upper back muscles and warms up the T-spinal extension.

For this one you will need a box, chair or bench. Anything sturdy that you can rest your elbows on and that’s about midsection height when you’re on your knees will work.

  • Start by kneeling in front of the box with your elbows resting on it.
  • Have your palms facing backwards.
  • Go down by dropping the chest to the ground.
  • Hold the stretch for about 3 seconds before releasing.
  • Aim for 10 reps.

Half-kneeling thoracic rotation

Tam recommends saving it for the end of a long day, when you’re feeling a little too leaned over. If you’re an archer, this is also a great move to warm up that mid-back spin.

  • Begin by kneeling on one knee.
  • Start with both arms extended in front.
  • Slowly begin to rotate the opposite arm at the top knee, running your fingers across your chest as you rotate one arm back.
  • Follow your fingers with your eyes as you go.
  • Take your time turning, and hold the back for a few seconds before slowly bringing the arm back to the start.
  • Aim for 10 reps on each side.
Portrait of Cori Ritchey

Cori Ritchey, NASM-CPT is an associate health and fitness editor at Men’s Health and a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. You can find more of his work in HealthCentral, Livestrong, Self and others.

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