Do you suffer stiffness in between the shoulder blades or around the rib cage?

By Alana Mitchell

Thoracic pain and stiffness is a common complaint we see here at In-Balance, particularly with clients who work in a sedentary desk based job. Increased device use (smart phones, tablets as well as computers) can also contribute to a stiff and sore middle back, bringing our thoracic spine into a more flexed position and head sitting further forward than our mid line.

If this sounds familiar, and you are noticing by the end of the day your mid back is aching, below are 4 simple exercises that can help improve mobility of the thoracic spine, reduce pain and improve mid to upper back posture. These are exercises we commonly prescribe to clients at In-Balance, and can highly recommend getting a foam roller for home if you don’t already have one.

Pilates book opening

1. Book opening stretch: good for thoracic mobility, opening the chest

Position in side lying, hips and knees bent in front of your body, hips stacked on top of each other. Start with arms outstretched in front of your body.
Begin the movement by reaching the top hand to the ceiling, eyes following your hand, and then continue the movement rotating around, allowing your rib cage to rotate around your body. Pelvis and legs should remain stable throughout.
Slowly return to the start position. Repeat up to 8-10 times, then turn onto your other side to repeat.

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foam roller thoracic massage

2. Foam roller thoracic massage: good for self massage and mobilising

Position as pictured with the roller at your mid back, hands behind your head supporting the weight of your head. Lift your hips off the floor so your trunk is parallel to the floor. Using your legs, roll your spine up and down the roller moving from the base of your neck down to the base of your rib cage. Try and relax into the roller and enjoy the massage and release!

foam roller shoulder exercises
foam roller arms scissor

3. Foam roller arm scissors and snow angels: good for thoracic mobilisation and chest stretch/opening

Position as pictured so the roller is positioned directly under and in line with your spine - your head should rest comfortably on one end, your pelvis and tail bone on the other.
Arm Scissors: start with one arm above your head, one arm by your side, lift both to the ceiling, sweep past each other to the opposite direction. Repeat up to 8-10 times.
Snow Angels: start with arms by your side, sweep them out to the side and up above your head drawing a wide arc, then return to the start position. Repeat up to 8-10 times.

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foam roller thoracic extension

4. Prone thoracic extension using roller: good for mobilising the spine into extension, building strength in the upper thoracic spine

Position on your stomach, wrists on roller as pictured with arms straight. Draw your belly away from the ground to lengthen and stabilise your lower spine. Draw your shoulder blades back and down to move the roller towards your head, then start to lift the back of your head, lift your gaze up and over the roller as you continue the movement down your spine to lift your chest up and forward. Pause, then lower your chest, your head and lastly your gaze down as you press the roller away from your head. Arms should remain straight throughout. At the top of the movement you should feel the stretch in your upper/mid back.

As with any exercise program it is always a good idea to check with your Physio to make sure the exercises are appropriate for your specific situation. If these exercises are appropriate for you to help improve thoracic mobility, they should bring you some immediate relief as well as help improve your postural awareness in the long term. If you want to know more about what you can do at home, or would like to combine these exercises with some hands on treatment to get you going, any of our Physio’s would be happy to help. In need of a good quality foam roller? We stock these in the clinic as they are very popular with our clients.