The thoracic spine (t-spine) is the mid-back area between the neck and the low back. Probably curious why we are calling it the tin man of the spine? The T-spine is one of the most common areas to have joint restrictions or in simple terms: lack of motion. We all remember the tin man from Wizard of Oz needing oil to help lubricate him to be able to move, the T-spine is the area of the body we commonly need to lubricate and get more motion.
The t-spine is also the first time we bring up the topic of not chasing pain. It is so easy when your shoulder hurts to focus in on the shoulder which is important to assess, but you also have to take a step back and look at the big picture. Thoracic mobility is a key player in shoulder health; if we are unable to get proper motion in the T-spine it will affect the mechanics of the shoulder. A prime example of this is Hunter Pence a baseball player in the MLB who has Scheuremann’s Disease, which is excessive rounding of the thoracic spine leading to a major decrease of t-spine mobility. The reason to bring this up is you can see from the link posted he does not have normal throwing mechanics which is directly related to his decreased thoracic mobility (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFA__ztkdP8). While this may be an extreme case it shows the importance of thoracic mobility for throwing. It is also important in the golf swing, overhead activities, and lifting (snatch, deadlift, back squat, etc.) to name a few. If you want to experiment yourself round your mid-back over like the Hunch Back of Notre Dame and then raise your arms over your head. Pretty difficult huh?
If you do not have the proper thoracic mobility you will not be able to get into the proper position to perform lifts, and will lead you to stealing the motion from somewhere else. One common way during lifts people try to get the extra motion is by stealing it from the low back. When you lack thoracic extension you try to make up for it by getting excessive extension in the low back which puts a lot of compression on the lumbar spine. This excessive extension of the low back leads to what is commonly referred to as open scissor posture. This affects the ability of the core muscles to properly activate and perform their job of stabilizing the low back.
The thoracic spine is usually restricted due to our daily lives and constant poor posture. That’s why it is important when you come in with shoulder pain or low back pain that the thoracic spine is also assessed. You cannot be blinded by pain and become hyper focused on the area of chief complaint or you may miss the big picture. Thoracic mobility exercises are not only good for people with mid-back tightness, but also individuals experiencing shoulder or low back pain. Check out some thoracic mobility exercises here!
So oil up that Tin Man and start getting the motion back in your thoracic spine. If you have any questions about the thoracic spine or want a free consultation, contact TROSS today! One of our highly qualified doctors will be happy to answer any questions you have and help guide you in the right direction. TROSS proudly serves the Cottleville, St. Peters, St. Charles, St. Louis and O’Fallon communities!