Thoracic Spine Mobility in Athletes
Updated: Jan 15
In our first edition of The ASPR Blog, we start where most movement begins: the spine!
We will cover 3 things today in this blog post:
1) We will cover the anatomy of the spine
2) We will cover why spinal mobility, thoracic spine mobility specifically, is so important
3) We will cover what action steps you can take if your thoracic spine mobility is impaired
Let's dive in!
Anatomy of the Spine
The make-up of the spine:
Cervical: 7 vertebrae (neck)
Thoracic: 12 vertebrae (upper back)
Lumbar: 5 vertebrae (lower back)
Sacral: 5 vertebrae that fuse into 1 by adulthood, located in the sacrum in the pelvis
Coccygeal: 4 vertebrae that fuse into 1 by adulthood, located in the coccyx in the pelvis
The thoracic spine (the upper and middle back) is composed of twelve vertebrae and is located between your neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine). The thoracic spine is part of the framework to support your body and is an attachment site for the ribs, as well as many muscles, small and large. In addition, it also helps to stabilize the body keeping it upright and works to protect the vital organs.
All of these vertebrae along with the muscles and ligaments in your back are what allow you to move your torso to make a throw, turn and catch a pass, swim, reach for the ball while keeping your foot on base and more. While the lumbar spine is built for stability, the thoracic spine is designed to help you rotate, flex and extend.
Why is thoracic mobility so important?
When your thoracic spine cannot move properly, the need for mobility is often compensated by increased movement in other areas of the body like the lower back or neck.
All rotational sport athletes must have adequate thoracic spine mobility in order to create the needed separation to transfer force from the lower extremity to the upper extremity while swinging/hitting, throwing, shooting, and while changing direction. For example, a pitcher who lacks proper thoracic rotational mobility may compensate during the pitching cycle with excessive shoulder external rotation. This will be a successful compensation for most in the short-term, but the pitcher may soon develop anterior shoulder pain from this movement dysfunction. This “injury” will either cause the athlete to miss future games or may lead to costly medical appointments to treat the symptoms. Once the symptoms resolve and the athlete returns to playing thinking “all is well”, the symptoms will likely soon return. This is because the treatment/intervention was focused on getting rid of the smoke (symptoms: pain, inflammation), as opposed to putting out the fire (main issue: poor thoracic mobility).
In addition, a stiff thoracic spine can make it difficult for overhead athletes to get into proper
positioning while performing athletic movements. Examples of overhead athletes include baseball, tennis, volleyball and football (quarterback) players. Because of this lack of mobility, athletes may compensate for this with excessive low back extension, a rib flare and/or a forward head posture to give the illusion they are achieving proper overhead positioning. These compensations over time can lead to overuse injuries such as low back pain, oblique strains, hip injuries, and neck pain.
How do I know if my thoracic mobility is limited?
Great question! Even if your thoracic mobility is not significantly limited, would you not want to take your performance to the next level and/or help reduce the risk of future injuries? The only tried and true way to do this is to get a thorough assessment performed by a trained professional. Similar to having your blood pressure taken or getting regular blood work done at the doctor’s office, certified health professionals can regularly assess your joints and movement patterns to ensure they are within optimum ranges. That’s where Aviator Sports Performance & Rehabilitation comes in!
Aviator Sports Performance and Rehabilitation is deeply rooted in the scientific study of human movement and the innovative integration of technology into practice, ultimately aiming to help patients, athletes/clients in maintaining healthy, fit lifestyles, reduce injury risk, and achieve higher levels of sports performance. Our highly trained staff (Composed of Doctors of Physical Therapy, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialists & Biomechanic Specialists) & state-of-the-art movement screening services can help identify any significant abnormal movement patterns or strength limitations present, and work to provide our clients with a fully customized corrective action plan to mitigate injury risk and help improve performance.
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