Bring on Spring
March was in like a lion and out like …..a stubborn lamb? Either way, everyone seems to be coming out of their winter hibernation. I see neighbors out walking, runners returning to the trails and kids outside playing… all indications that everyone is READY FOR SPRING.
What does Spring mean for you?? A return to riding outside? Spring baseball training? Prepping for the golf season? Do you know what all these activities have in common? The thoracic spine of course!
What is your thoracic spine (t-spine)?
The t-spine extends from vertebrae T1-T12 to your rib cage. Simply put, it is the structure from the base of your neck to the top of your low back. Unlike the cervical and lumbar spine structures, the thoracic spine is not known for its mobility. Instead, it is more of a quiet protector of your internal organs, with vertical, horizontal and rotational movement capabilities. For example, the scapula (shoulder blade) must rotate inward and down to the top of the rib cage in order for your arm to raise overhead. This movement can only happen correctly when the thoracic spine has enough extension. If the mobility of the thoracic spine is hindered, like when a segment gets stuck or a rib gets displaced, it will refer symptoms from the base of you neck to your low back, often creating a deep achy pain between your shoulder blade and the spine. This pain can be temporarily relieved by using a lacrosse ball or foam roller, however, more persistent pain requires physical therapy intervention.
If the thoracic spine lacks mobility, how will it affect my performance?
Well for starters… your breath! Your rib cage is connected to your t-spine, and must be able to move both up/down and in/out with inhalation and exhalation. A displaced rib or rotated thoracic segment can make breathing hard from exertion and taking deep breaths for recovery painful and difficult. For cyclists, having your arms extended and connected to your handlebars requires at least 90 degrees of shoulder flexion and, as noted above, in order for your arm to flex, your scapula has to rotate. If your scapula cannot rotate, your body will be forced to adopt poor mechanics to compensate. Many hours in the saddle with poor mechanics can easily lead to neck and low back pain. For golfers and baseball players, thoracic mobility is vital to promote efficient swing mechanics. If the thoracic spine cannot rotate at the start of the swing, it will be difficult to obtain a good position for follow-through. A poor golf or baseball swing will quickly develop into a low back injury.
How do I work on my thoracic spine?
Stay tuned to my Facebook page. I will be posting a quick video to demonstrate two basic exercises that will work on your thoracic spine mobility. If you are having consistent and persistent pain along your t-spine, schedule an appointment! KA-PT will get you ready for the Spring season!
Katie Andrew PT DPT
Katie Andrew Physical Therapy