Moving Well, Part 6: Stuck in the Middle


The thoracic spine or mid back, is often overlooked in our exercise regimens. Compared to other areas of the body it doesn’t have a lot of motion, but what it has is needed fully. Limitations to the thoracic spine can contribute to low back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain as well as playing a factor in TMJ dysfunction and headaches.

Because we spend so much of our time sitting and doing things in front of ourselves, the thoracic spine tends to get stuck hunched forward and can’t extend or rotate.  This contributes to a forward head posture that affects the neck and shoulders as well as limiting the ability of the low back to move independently. All of this contributes to low back pain.

To assess thoracic spine motion you may need a partner. Sit with your hands clasped behind your head, elbows pointing out to either side (in other words, form a straight line with your elbows and head). Turn your upper body to the right. Ideally, your partner standing behind you should be able to see your opposite shoulder, in this case your left.  If not, you may have a limitation to your thoracic spine. Repeat checking to the left. They should be equal. The pictures below show that I’m limited in both directions, but more so to the left.


The open book is a good exercise to improve thoracic rotation. Lie on your side with your hand on your sternum, then let the top shoulder fall back towards the table to open up the chest. Return to start position and repeat.