Quadruped T-Spine Self Mobilization
By Brian Schiff, PT, OCS, CSCS
Execution: Assume a quadruped position on the floor. Next, place the left hand behind your head and bring your elbow in so that it is in line with your body. Then, ease your back toward your heels to lock in your lumbar spine. If this causes knee pain or you are unable to do so, then stay in the more upright quadruped position.
Extend the other arm so that you are in a stable position. Rotate the upper torso (head and eyes will follow) to the right, bringing your left elbow past the midline of your body and as far as you are able to. Pause for 1-2 seconds and then reverse directions, opening up to the left and allowing your shoulder to abduct to facilitate maximal thoracic spine rotation in that direction. Again, pause 1 to 2 sec at the top.
Repeat this cycle for 10 repetitions and then switch sides. Perform one to two sets on each side. Keep in mind that the motion should be performed smoothly and deliberately, attempting to improve motion. With that said, do not forcefully push through any soreness or significant stiffness.
Application: It is common for some athletes to have stiffness (whether in extension or rotation or both) in the thoracic spine. A lack of mobility here will often have a negative impact on the lumbar spine and shoulders. In this exercise, I am focusing on rotation.
Consider movements such as throwing, tennis serve backswing in golf, and swimming; to name a few, that rely upon thoracic spine rotation. Limited thoracic spine mobility will force other joints to sacrifice stability to allow the desired movement to happen. When this occurs, issues such as shoulder impingement, increased torsion and hyperextension in the lumbar spine and eventual hypermobility in other segments of the kinetic chain may occur.
Utilizing this simple technique will allow athletes to independently work on thoracic spine mobility and reduce the risk for repetitive stress/strain injuries. My clinical and training experience has taught me many of the athletes I see have limited thoracic spine mobility in general, but overhead athletes are ones to focus in on as they tend to learn to compensate over time to hide their deficiency.
Analyzing athlete activities, postures and movement will allow you to pick up on imbalances. One easy way to screen general mobility is to have an athlete sit on a table or chair and hold a dowel behind their head. Next, have the person slowly rotate left and right. Observe any asymmetry or notable limitation in motion. Even if you see limitations on one side, I would still suggest working both directions to maximize total motion in the thoracic spine.
Brian Schiff, PT, OCS, CSCS, is a licensed physical therapist, respected author and fitness professional. Currently, he serves as the supervisor at Athletes’ Performance at Raleigh Orthopaedic. For more cutting-edge training information, subscribe to his monthly Training & Sports Medicine Update atwww.BrianSchiff.com