Thoracic extension is one of those motions that is limited in just about everyone you test. I can’t prove why, but I’m guessing it’s a combination of a lifestyle that includes a lot of sitting, a lack of variety in movement patterns and that it is one of the first things to reduce its motion when under stress…whether that is physical stress (like an injury) or emotional stress.
Now any one of those 3 factors will be enough to stiffen up the thoracic, but I’m guessing that most people will be subject to more than that! More and more people sit for hours and hours as part of their job…and I think we’ve all seen people who struggle with that. A lack of variety in movement patterns stems from the same thing. Everything is very linear, no-one is taking advantage of the huge power the thoracic holds in the frontal and transverse planes. This lack of ability in the frontal and transverse plane plays a big role in the lack of extension I think. Finally, stresses!! We are all subject to different physical stresses (one of which would be postural stress) and emotional stresses and when things are tough we definitely favour curling up into flexion. If you’ve ever seen someone sprain their ankle, you will see the thoracic spine lock down immediately.
A lack of thoracic extension plays a massive role in the disruption of other movement patterns. Most immediately limiting the cervical spine and shoulders though also having a big negative influence on the hips and subsequently the feet. Since the thoracic is a vital link in the chain I thought today we would look at my top 3 strategies for increasing thoracic extension.
- Type I and type II thoracic motion
- Mobilising with movement
- Driving with the head
1. Type I and Type II Motion
I’ve spoken in detail about this before and it is an extremely powerful tool to get any motion out of the thoracic. Type I motion is when the spine is laterally flexing one way and rotating the other (eg. LF left with rotation to the right) and type II is when they are both going in the same direction (LF right, rotation right). Using this strategy takes the spine through many of its motions and in different combinations and though you don’t necessarily go right after extension it will improve extension. Again, I can’t prove why, but my hunch is that when the spine has more options each segment is capable of giving a little more and therefore extension is improved a little at each segment…giving you a marked improvement in extension when all segments are added together.
To read more on this see the post on the Thoracic Spine
2. Mobilising with Movement
Those of you who use manual therapy will most likely use these already. The only tweak I have made over the years it to make them a little more functional. My preferred set up is, for example, left foot on a step, right hand driving into extension overhead with me standing on the left side of the patient using my left hand to stabilise the patient and my right pisiform to mobilise the spine into more extension. Really simple if you are a manual therapist, but extremely powerful. It definitely works best if you have a stretch cage, as the patient can be that much more stable and will give up more motion into extension. Plus, if they are more stable you can use more force in your manual therapy.
3. Driving with the Head
This is probably the most powerful…and one I definitely use with caution. Not good if the person has a neck problem and low reps even if they don’t. Having said that I’ve never had a bad reaction to this technique (touch wood!!)…just instinctively it’s one to be cautious with.
With this one I would position the arms in either type I or type II motion, again a stretch cage is extremely useful. Then with one foot on the step I get them rocking back and fore slowly on their front leg. Then with the arms in position they gently drive the head into extension. My general rule is that all my exercises should be pain free when performed and this is no exception. I usually look at about 4-5 reps in one position and then change. once I have got through the 4 different type I/II motions I will re-test thoracic extension.
This one doesn’t sound like much, but often yields the biggest results, I think it works for the same reason as the type I/II on it’s own however the big difference is that this better targets that really stubborn upper thoracic area.
Powered by Facebook Comments