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Home > Stretches > Thoracic Stretch

Thoracic Stretch

thoracic spine erectors rotators

Setup

  1. Get something about 6 inches high, like 2 stacked pillows, an inverted bucket, a foam roller, or a medicine ball ("your object").
  2. Lie on the ground on your side, trunk and legs totally straight.
  3. Put your object near your pelvis and bend the top hip and knee joints each to 90 degrees with the inside of the knee resting on top of the object.  The placement of the foot of the knee resting on the object is unimportant.

Execution

Straighten your top arm and slowly bring it back over your body such that it is not only over your shoulder, but your hand should be “higher” (farther up) than your head (shoulder joint about 30 degrees above horizontal).  This motion will naturally twist your thoracic spine.  Whether you also look back over your shoulder with your neck is up to you.  You have the option of slowly bringing the arm back to the starting point or doing more of a static stretch.  If you opt for the static stretch, let your arm go behind up and behind your torso as far as it will go, and then take deep breaths into your stomach for 30 seconds or so.  Switch sides and repeat as desired.  The guys in the below videos do a pretty good job of demonstrating this thoracic stretch, though their methods are a bit different from the thoracic stretch I've described.

Also, here's a variation on this mobilization exercise:

Background

The object that your knee rests on is crucial.  What this object does is stabilize your lumbar spine so that all the stretching and rotating is done from the thoracic vertebrae (it’s a thoracic stretch, after all).  Without the object under your knee you end up rotating both the thoracic and the lumbar spine.  The lumbar spine doesn’t like to rotate so much, it’s designed to be a stable structure.  Each segment (disc and vertebra) is good for about 2-3 degrees of rotation in the lumbar whereas each segment of the thoracic spine is good for 7-9 degrees of rotation.  Remember, the lumbar spine likes stability, thoracic spine likes mobility.  Again I was going to make a video of this thoracic stretch, but these guys do a reasonable job of demonstrating.

Note that when people talk about “rotator” muscles in your spine, they’re really talking about the spinal erectors (the erector spinae) (though the multifidi also assist in thoracic rotation).  Rotation of the trunk is achieved by one side of the erectors relaxing and the other side firing (the external obliques muscles on the front of your body assist as well).  One of the cools things about this thoracic stretch is the fast results; within a day or two of doing it you will notice increased range of motion (“ROM”).  ROM in the thoracic spine is lost by sitting in front of a computer all day.  Weekend warriors swinging gold clubs and baseball bats would do well to take notice of this stretch.  For those of you with chronic pain in the thoracic, consider coupling this stretch with several good latissimus dorsi stretches.

Further Reading: Related Floota.com Articles

  1. Desk Jockey: What Sitting All Day is Doing to Your Body
  2. Stability Ball Back Stretch
  3. Rhomboids Stretch

Last Updated: 4/21/2012
Originally Posted: 4/7/2008