Thoracic Mobility Exercise: Forget back, neck and shoulder pain

improve your thoracic mobility quick and easy

Mobile Monday: Thoracic mobility

The key to many neck and shoulder injuries, your thorax needs to be mobile and in control, otherwise everything working off it, eventually feels the hurt. In this post I will discuss thoracic mobility exercises to help you relive back, neck and shoulder pain.

Why is Thoracic Mobility Important?

Thoracic mobility is one of the most overlooked aspects of injury prevention. Although this part of your spine doesn’t have as much movement as above and below it, it is very important none the less and here are a quick few reasons:

1. A stiff or weak upper spine means other areas have to compensate and move MORE, leading to shoulder, neck and low back injuries and pain.

2. Because your ribs attach to the thoracic spine, if the spine is stiff, locked up or just not moving correctly then the ribs are not going to move optimally when you breathe – leading to a lower breathing capacity and less basal lung expansion (the most important area of the lung).

3. If you work at a desk or live on the couch, your thoracic spine ends up hunched over, your pecs get tight and you just feel stuck – this makes your shoulders sit forward,  increasing the risk of sub-acromial pain and makes your head stick forward = causing headaches and neck pain.

Thoracic Mobility Exercise for Pain Relief

So, to get you to 100% mobile and pain free, here is an exercise to improve thoracic mobility and improve every aspect of your movement – and it just takes 5 minutes!

Thoracic extensions:

Mobilizing into extension is my a definite go to exercise for all shoulder and spinal/back pain as this unloads all those areas.

Extension in the thoracic spine is coupled with rotation, so if you gain extension, you also gain rotation!

Tools needed:

There are specific tools that you can use such as Foam Roller and 1/2 foam rolls (my favorite), but if this is too much for the budget then you can roll up a towel very, very firmly and tape it up.

chariot pull, shoulder strengtheningPosition:

Lying on your back place the roll under your upper back, starting above the curve of your low back.

With your knees bent up and feet planted on the ground bring your arms all the ways up above your head so that you stretch your upper body right out and then bring then down to your side (like a big snow angel).

Bridging your bottom off the ground can add to the stretch!

Reps and sets:

You will need to move the roll up your back to get the different levels. Spend 30 seconds on each level, extending your arms above your head towards the ground and then down to your side repeated.

Do this exercise daily and you will see a great improvement in not only thoracic mobility but in all aspects of your life including, from overhead gym work and your golf swing to looking over your shoulder when driving.

9 thoughts on “Thoracic Mobility Exercise: Forget back, neck and shoulder pain”

  1. I have been using this exercise for the past month and it has helped free me up through my thoracic area nicely without irritating it. I am 44 and have mild schuermann’s disease and degenerative lower back discs. I’ve found many thoracic mobility exercises actually irritate my back and most posture exercises do nothing more than waste my time and also irritate. In the past 8 weeks I have worked with a physio and have built up to deadlifting (with a wide stance) 100kg’s without pain. Although I have always been into fitness the idea of deadlifting that type of weight scared the heck out of me. Strengthening and waking up my glutes has made an incredibly difference to my daily pain and stiffness. I am currently only doing 2 exercises in the gym twice a week and have gained more from them than hours of mobility and specific postural exercises.

    1. PhysioPrescription

      That is great to hear Jason! Now the challenge is to keep it in good shape, working on easy mobility stretches like this one and some good general strengthening.

  2. jnhrtn

    Will a rolled up yoga mat or a foam pool noodle work for this exercise?

    1. PhysioPrescription

      Yes, give it a go, it should be firm enough for a start

  3. Question! When I try to do this, I find that I struggle to hold my neck up throughout the stretch. I know that I have a weak neck from whiplash I got from a car accident about 4 years ago. I have been to several PT’s and am seeing a chiro right now, but I was wondering if I could modify this exercise by putting a pillow under my head? Thanks!

    1. PhysioPrescription

      Yes, you can definitely have your head on a small pillow if you don’t have the range to rest it on the floor. Note that lifting your bottom of the ground is a progression as you improve.

  4. kelle powell

    This really works! I just had shoulder surgery in May and the thoracic mobility I’ve gained working with the foam roller–from bridge–has opened my shoulder flexor so as well as helped to release my super tight traps!

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