How life has changed since 2019!!
We see lack of movement caused by so many different things now. The usual sedentary lifestyle from poor motivation, restrictions in where and how to get exercise AS WELL AS the increase in working from home. This has all amassed to increases in sitting, both on the computer and then in front of the television.
The outcome is restriction and stiffness in the full spine and specifically poor thoracic spine mobility.
We also need to consider those people who have recently experienced violent trauma as which includes motor vehicle accidents, bad falls, sporting injuries etc. These insults also induce pain and immobility on our thoracic vertebrae.
Other precursors to a stiff and painful thoracic spine include people suffering from Osteoporosis in jobs requiring strenuous lifting, patients with a history of cancer, drug abuse, HIV, or partial or complete suppression of the immune response/prolonged use of corticosteroids. These are just a few of those I see in my clinic complaining of “a bad upper back”.
The muscles involved in Thoracic Rotations are:
“During rotation, the external oblique (EO), rectus abdominis (RA) and lumbar multifidus (MF) muscles act contralaterally, whereas the latissimus dorsi (LD), internal oblique (IO), and transversus abdominis (TrA) muscle act ipsilaterally3,4,5,6). Trunk rotation is a motion involving both thoracic and lumbar vertebrae.1”
Some of the most commonly known treatments for pain in the thoracic region include stretching, massage, and some other counter (OTC) medicines. Others, also try heat and/or cold therapy which helps lessen the muscle pain and stiffness in the short term but have little evidence around the long-term benefits.
So what can YOU do to help if you have a stiff, painful back? If you struggle to get up in the morning, find it difficult to twist to look over your shoulder when driving or simply turning in seated or standing positions.
Here is a quick exercise you can do just about anywhere to help relieve this tension and limited thoracic rotations. Stretch twists of the torso can help improve rib mobility, muscle restrictions, and ultimately diaphragm integrity which is probably the biggest benefit when we consider the need for blood enriched with oxygen.
Twist and Stretch Exercise
I want to offer you the feeling of length/balance of the spinal segments, feeling taller or straighter, and the overall state of postural strength of the core. This is also a very good practice to strengthen your Diaphragm & Upper Torso.
- In the first sequence, put one hand underneath your leg locking your sit bones securely onto the table or chair, while your other hand is across your body and grabbing the chair to be able to start you on your way to twisting your spine.
- Twist as far as you can go and then try to return to the midline using the muscles of your trunk but use that second hand to hold on and resist.
- Hold that position for about 10 seconds and return back to the centre position so your back is in neutral.
- Take a deep cleansing breath in/out and then relax.
- In the second sequence, repeat the twist to as far as you can turn the spine. Then include a head/neck turn in the same direction to apply a small amount of overpressure to the stretch.
- Hold this position for 10 seconds, return to centre and take another full breath in and out.
- The third and the most important of the three sequences are including ocular or eye movement. This encourages the motor cortex to add more rotation via the descending pathways and usually assists in further changes in the nervous system along with the muscles and fascia.
- Rotate both the head and body as far as possible and hold again for 10 seconds.
- Now, make your eyes look as far around as you can possibly can and add a bit more stretch.
Watch this 2-minute video for a more visual presentation of this Twisting Exercise.
1 Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine [Relationship between the spinal range of motion and trunk muscle activity during trunk rotation]