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  • Writer's pictureJeanine Yutani

June: "Mobility Matters - Your Thoracic Spine"

Mobility is key for long-term quality of life…especially for your spine. Mobility means the ability to move comfortably - from simple everyday tasks to more strenuous exercise and physical activity. It requires strength, balance, coordination, and is often limited in modern society that has us spending hours sitting behind a desk or using hi-tech devices. But mobility matters because it is what allows you to safely execute all the movements you use in everyday activities.

What is often the culprit for complaints ranging from low back, to neck and shoulder pain is actually the thoracic spine. When the thoracic spine is functioning properly, it allows for relative movement in all directions and is designed for flexion, extension, rotation, bending and twisting. The thoracic spine, the 12 vertebrae that make up the middle part of the spine attached to the ribs, needs to be mobile or compensations in the lumbar spine (low back), pelvis, cervical spine (neck) and shoulders can effect movement and even potentially lead to injury.

Because the lumbar spine is meant to be relatively stable, it depends on the mobility of the thoracic spine. If the lumbar spine is forced to be mobile, it places excess pressure on the discs of the lower back. If movement overhead is required, limited thoracic mobility can put undue stress on the shoulders and neck by requiring those areas to work harder which can lead to overuse injuries. Full flexion of the shoulder requires the shoulder blade to rotate and tilt on the rib cage as the thoracic spine moves into extension.


Research has shown that maintaining back muscle strength and appropriate range of motion helps improve the quality of life for most adults, particularly among middle aged and the elderly. Even for athletes, regularly performing simple mobility exercises can help improve function of the thoracic spine and decrease the risk for injury. When we have back pain, we may not want to exercise, but the reality is that exercise is one of the best things you can do for spine health. If you have back pain or an injury, consult your healthcare professional (like a physical therapist) to develop back-care a program specific to your physical needs.

Practicing good posture also helps keep your spine in healthy alignment by recruiting the spinal muscles which best support the body as you go about your daily tasks. If your upper back is hunched or rounded, this may be a sign that your thoracic spine needs greater mobility. This posture can contribute to discomfort in the neck and shoulders, and often leads to compensation in the lumbar spine. Poor alignment and mobility of the thoracic spine can also contribute to pelvic floor issues due to the patterns of connective tissue between them.

Good thoracic mobility and the strength to support it means lower probabilities of low back or neck pain, shoulder issues, and can even mean greater lung capacity because you’re better able to open up your chest and breathe. Stop by Via Pilates to find out how incorporating just a few minutes of thoracic mobility exercises into your daily life can help improve your quality of life.


1. Cat/Camel

  • Start on all fours with hands under shoulders and knees under hips, spine in neutral.

  • Exhale as you float the back of the rib cage up toward the ceiling, curling the sacrum under and allowing the head to hang.

  • Inhale through neutral and into extension by floating the sacrum up behind you and the sternum out in front of you.

  • Notes: Be careful not to lead with your head/chin. This exercise can also be performed standing with hands/forearms on desk, counter or bed.

2. Thread the Needle in Quad

  • Start on all fours with hands under shoulders and knees under hips, spine in neutral.

  • Inhale to lift your right elbow to the side and up to the sky, opening the chest gazing past your elbow (keep your palm on your chest).

  • Exhale to bring your arm down and slide it on the floor under your left arm, reaching across your body, back of the hand sliding along the floor.

  • Return to neutral and repeat 2 times, then repeat sequence on the other side.

  • Notes: Think of looking under your armpit as you rotate under the opposite arm. This exercise can also be performed standing with hands against a wall (just be careful of your balance!).

3. Modified Child’s Pose Side Stretch

  • Start sitting back on your heels in "child's pose", arms reaching forward and hands (one on top of the other) on the floor in front of you.

  • Keeping your hips stable, reach your hands over to one side, stretching through the side of your spine and ribcage. Take three breaths.

  • Return to start position and repeat on the other side.

  • Notes: An alternate position for those who prefer to avoid kneeling is to stand/squat with bent knees at the foot of a bed, reaching forward onto the bed to perform the exercise.

* Fitness and health information presented on these pages and through videos and/or direct contact with and from members of Via Pilates is intended as an educational resource. It is not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Consult your physician or health care professional before performing any of the exercises described herein. Discontinue any exercise that causes you pain or severe discomfort and consult a medical expert. Any information, instruction or advice obtained herein may NOT be used as a substitute for your doctor’s advice or treatment and is used at your own risk. For full disclaimer information,

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