Baseball Player


Thoracic Spine Mobility in Athletes

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

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