If you’re experiencing upper back, shoulder or neck pain, it may be time to work on thoracic mobility.
Your thoracic spine is the portion that spans your upper back close to the bottom of your neck. It is area supports your shoulders as well as your neck.
Thanks to digital devices, most of us have the tendency to round our backs. This not only stiffens the region, but it also puts extra stress on your shoulders and neck.
Test Your Thoracic Mobility
Here’s a quick and easy way to tell if your upper back lacks mobility.
- Lie flat on the ground. Make sure your back is against the surface.
- Bend your knees while keeping your feet on the floor.
- Now, bend your elbows 45-degrees then bring your arms over your head.
- See if you can get your wrists to touch the floor above your head without arching your back.
If you’re able to get your wrists to touch the ground, CONGRATS! You’ve got good thoracic mobility.
If not, don’t worry.
We’ve got some simple, easy to do thoracic spine mobility drills you can do at home to fix this problem.
Do them every day. And, in no time, you’ll have a much more mobile, pain-free upper back.
Best Thoracic Mobility Exercises for Your Upper Back
1. Quadruped Thoracic Spine Rotations
This is an upper back exercise that’s done on the floor. Positioning yourself on the floor reduces the excess movements from other parts of the body. It also allows you to limit lumbar rotation.
This way, you’ll thoracic spine experiences all the movement without other parts of the back or body compensating for it.
You’ll notice that the video uses a rock back position. This eliminates a lot of the lumbar movement in the exercise.
How to Do Quadruped Thoracic Spine Rotations
- Get on all fours.
- Place your right arm behind your head.
- Turn your right elbow in towards your left knee. Then rotate back outwards trying to reach your elbow to the ceiling.
- Make sure to maintain a neutral spine during the movement.
- Also, try to keep the rotation within your thoracic spine region. Avoid letting the lumbar spine do the work.
- Do this 10 times.
- Switch sides.
2. Side Lying Thoracic Rotations
This is another rotation exercise that uses a different angle. It puts you on your side. For many people, this makes the movement much easier, allowing for a better range of motion.
How to Do Side Lying Thoracic Rotations
For this exercise, you’ll need two objects.
- One to prop your head up, so it’s even with your spine when you’re on your side.
- Another to rest your upper leg on.
Now for the steps:
- Lie on your side. Rest your head on the foam roller or pad.
- Place your top leg on the other object so that it is in a 90-degree angle.
- Extend both arms in front of your chest placing one palm over the other.
- Raise the top hand to the ceiling and over to the other side. This will make your body open up and face the ceiling. Follow your hands with your eyes, so your head moves in the same direction.
- Make sure to rotate with your upper back instead of letting the lower back do all the work.
3. Kneeling Thoracic Spine Extension
This thoracic spine extension exercise is a great way to reverse some of the rounding effects of sitting down all day. It mobilizes your upper back allowing it to move in a different direction to those we’ve seen so far.
How to Do the Kneeling Thoracic Spine Extension
- Knee in front of a chair or bench.
- Bend your arms and bring your elbows up to chest high.
- Rest your elbows on the bench.
- Sit back by bringing your butt towards your heels. This will give your thoracic spine a good stretch.
4. Seated Thoracic Bends
This exercise helps with thoracic rotation. This will help you move more freely when turning towards the right or left sides. In addition to the rotating movement, it also allows you to bend from your upper back.
How to Do This Exercise
- Sit on a chair and place a pillow or foam roller between your knees. The pillow will serve to stabilize your spine so that you don’t move.
- Place both hands behind your head.
- Rotate your upper torso as far as you can to your right side.
- Then, bend three times to your right.
- Do this movement two more times, each time trying to rotate further to the right side. Bending will help improve thoracic mobility allowing you to turn farther.
- Rotate back to the middle.
- Then do the same for the left side.
5. Foam Roller Thoracic Extension
If you’re not used to foam rolling this may not be the most comfortable exercise on the list. But, using a foam roller will be one of the best $10 investments you’ll ever make in your life.
When starting out, try to go slow. This will allow you to ease into it. The foam roller is very hard, so you’ll need to get used to it.
Doing these extension exercises will help extend and rotate your thoracic spine. Doing so helps relieve stress off your lower back and spine.
How to Do Thoracic Extensions on the Foam Roller
- Place a foam roller on the ground.
- Position your upper back on the foam roller, so your body is perpendicular to it.
- Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. You’ll use your legs for leverage to roll yourself up and down.
- Bring your hands behind your head.
- Lift your pelvis up from the floor.
- Using your legs, roll yourself up and down to allow the foam roller to cover your entire thoracic area.
6. Crocodile Pose
The crocodile pose is not as well-known as the cobra pose. But, for thoracic mobility purposes, it works better.
Because you only raise the top half of your torso, it targets the upper back and thoracic spine. The extension gives you a nice relaxing stretch.
You can use this movement along with the cobra pose, which is great for targeting your lower back. Together, they help with back pain relief and prevention.
How to Do the Crocodile Pose
- Lie on the floor on your stomach.
- Extend your legs back.
- Bring your arms under your shoulders. Rest them on your elbows and forearms. This will prop up your upper back and give you a nice stretch.
- Raise your head and face forward.
- Hold the pose for 30 seconds.
7. Child’s Pose
The Child’s pose is another yoga move.
It is one of the most relaxing poses around.
The posture stretches your spine in the opposite direction the crocodile pose does.
How to Do the Child’s Pose
- Get on your hands and knees.
- Bring your heels together and spread your knees, so they’re hip-width apart.
- Lower your body between your thighs.
- Lengthen your spine by pulling your tailbone away from your lower back and trying to extend your neck away from your upper back.
- Extend your arms in front of you and place your palms on the ground.
- Stay in this position as you relax for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
8. Seated Side Reach
This Pilates move offers a great way to stretch your spine towards your sides. It is simple to do. And, you can do it anywhere. The exercise calls for you to be seated on the floor or a chair. But, you can do it standing as well.
To target your thoracic spine, we do recommend sitting down. We’ve noticed that doing it standing up often tempts you to bend with your lower back instead of your upper back.
How to Do the Seated Side Reach
- Sit on the floor with your legs crossed.
- Place your left hand on the floor beside your hip. You’ll use this off hand for support. You can also use it to prevent yourself from bending from the lower spine.
- Bring your right arm overhead. Then, use it to bend your upper back towards the left side.
- Hold this stretched position for 10 to 30 seconds.
- Do the same for the left side.