Why You Don’t Need More Thoracic Spine Mobility

Mobility is and has been a popular theme in the physical therapy and strength and conditioning worlds.  

The idea that we need more and more mobility and that we should always strive for more and more can be a rabbit hole we don’t want to go down.

Don’t get me wrong.  I totally agree that there are athletes and individuals who need a pre-requisite amount of mobility in order to do certain day to day tasks and/or high level athletic activities.

Limited mobility in one area of the body can cause the body to have to compensate and instead of delegating stress across multiple areas, concentrate it to one or two and increase the physical stress in that location.

But, not everyone needs more and more mobility.  The way to determine that is through a in-depth assessment.

Specifically, the thoracic spine.  There are many people who continue to work on their thoracic spine mobility and don’t need to because they have enough OR it isn’t improving.

Here is a quick and easy way to determine if someone has sufficient thoracic spine mobility, specifically extension and rotation.

Quadruped Thoracic Spine Rotation

Key Points:

-Gently passively rotate the athlete as shown.

-Make sure not to side bend vs rotating.

In the general population, we like to see 50 degrees.  Approximately halfway from the starting position to the trunk being completely vertical/perpendicular to the ground.

For rotational athletes, we like to see closer to 70 degrees.

So, what if an athlete has full mobility passively as shown in the previous video, but when they do it actively, they look like this.

Different story compared to when checked passively!

This athlete has the pre-requisite mobility when checked passively, but can’t access it actively.

If this is the case, this type of person doesn’t need more mobility drills such as:

Sidelying Rib Roll

Sidelying Thoracic Rotation

A-Frame Thoracic Spine Mobilization

They need a drill that helps train their body to access their available mobility.

Drills that I like to use are:

Kettlebell Assisted Thoracic Rotation

Key Points:

-Lie on one side.

-Bring knee above hip.

-Slow and controlled, allow kettlebell to assist in rotating through thoracic spine.

-Perform for 3 sets x 5 reps.

Quadruped Assisted Thoracic Rotation

Key Points:

-Hands and knees, sit hips back on heels.

-Place band around shoulder and wrap behind back.

-Using tension from band, slow and controlled, rotate through upper back as shown.

-Perform for 3 sets x 5 reps.

½ Kneeling Assisted Thoracic Rotation

Key Points:

-If rotating to the left, place left knee down and right knee up and vice versa and facing opposite direction.

-Place band around shoulder as shown.

-Place non-band arm against up leg.

-Slow and controlled, allow band to rotate you.

-Perform for 3 sets x 5 reps.

So, if you find that you have been working on your thoracic spine mobility for a period of time and it continues to feel tight and/or hasn’t been improving, try incorporating drills like these to see if they help.

Andrew Millett