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The Thoracic Spine

Updated: Oct 16, 2020

What is the thoracic spine?

- The thoracic spine is the largest section of the spine, connecting to the cervical spine above and the lumbar spine below. It is also the only spinal region that the ribcage attaches to.

- The thoracic spine has 12 vertebrae (T1 down to T12).



What is the function of the thoracic spine?

- The function of the thoracic spine is to protect the spinal cord, anchor the rib cage and facilitate range of movement (flexion, extension, rotation and lateral flexion).

Biomechanical Underpinnings

- The thoracic spine represents a critical, yet underappreciated region in the spine (Liebenson, 2001).

- Having a stiff upper-thoracic spine can decrease our ability to activate the deep neck flexors and lead to a ‘forward head posture’. This can cause pain as a result of cervical radiculopathies (referred nerve pain or muscular weakness from the neck to the arms)

- With restriction of the upper-thoracic spine, excessive kyphosis (rounding) of the back can occur which can also lead to secondary shoulder pain due to the increased likelihood of something called ‘upper crossed syndrome’, which is characterised by tightness anteriorly in the pectorals and weakness through the mid-trapezius (Liebenson, 2011).

How do you ensure the thoracic spine stays healthy and functioning optimally?

- The goal with the thoracic spine is regular mobilization through mobility-based exercises and stabilization through strengthening exercises of the musculature surrounding the thoracic spine.

Mobility Exercises

1. Thoracic Rotation against a wall x 10-12 reps per side


2. Thoracic Flexion/Extension in sitting x 10-12 reps


Strengthening Exercises

1. Prone Y’s x 10-15 reps


2. Plank x 30-60 seconds


Try these exercises at 1-2 times daily if you feel you have limited movement and strength surrounding the thoracic spine region. If you feel you have no movement or strength limitations, you can do these exercises 1-2 times daily also or just a handful of times per week for some well-deserved self-care and maintenance work!


References

Liebenson, C.S. (2001) Treatment of mid-thoracic dysfunction: a key link in the body axis. Part 1: overview and assessment. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies,5 (2): pp. 90-98.

Liebenson, C.S. (2011) A key link in the locomotor system: The upper-thoracic spine. Dynamic Chiropractic, 29 (13): e1.

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