The thoracic spine can be defined as the 12 vertebrae of the middle and upper back which join the neck to the lower back. This area in the middle of the back has the propensity to become tight and immobile in a large percentage of the adult population. This is a direct result of the hunched over position many office workers put themselves in on a daily basis (chances are you are doing it right now). Not only does this not look appealing, it can play a big role in neck and lower back pain, as well as overall health and function of the body. Virtually everyone – from busy office executives to professional athletes – can benefit from improved thoracic mobility and using floor slides are a great way to do just that.
To begin this exercise, you must first locate an item to place under your back to give you a slight lift off the ground (for this video I am using furniture sliders and a rolled up towel). This item should be firm enough that it can support your body weight, yet soft enough that is does not cause discomfort. It is also important that this item is not too wide that it restricts movement of the shoulder blades. The next step is to place this item in the middle of the upper back and lay down on top of it. If this position is painful you may need to find a smaller and/or softer item. Play around with different items and positions until you find a comfortable combination.
Once in position, bend knees up and draw belly button in towards the floor – this will ensure that the lower back remains stable throughout the exercise. Next, retract shoulders blades by pulling the shoulders towards the ground without bending the elbows – imagine squeezing the shoulder blades together. While maintaining this position, allow elbows to bend and drop towards the ground. Keeping forearms parallel and in contact with the floor, slowly extend arms overhead to stretch the posterior side of the shoulder. Reverse this motion by pulling the elbows down towards the hips to stretch the anterior side of the shoulder. Throughout this entire process it is important to keep shoulder blades pinched together and the lower back in a neutral position. Repeat this process for 10-20 repetitions or until tight muscles relax.
The benefits of improved thoracic mobility can be seen immediately in your posture. Not only will you stand taller, you will also feel less strain in the neck and lower back as a result of the spine being in a more neutral position. An added benefit of this exercise is its ability to activate the hard to reach stabilizer muscles of the upper back. This is particularly useful for protecting athletes’ shoulders in repetitive overhead sports such as baseball and softball; as well as contact sports such as football, hockey and lacrosse.