Dr. Anna, PT
The Go-To Move for Upper Back Tightness
Thoracic extension over a foam roll is my jam right now! I don’t know if it’s my too-soft bed or simply holding too much tension in my upper back right now, but I’ve definitely been extra tight the last few weeks. When I feel this way, my go-to move is to get on the floor with my foam roll and try to get my upper back moving better and stretched out. Sure enough, after a few sessions of doing this the tightness is gone and I'm back to my pain-free self.
Thoracic segments are those vertebrae that are in the middle portion of the back. (They’re the spinal segments that attach to ribs.) When you extend them, you are bending backwards. It’s not a move that one typically does regularly, so I find that most of my patients are a little shocked at the tightness they feel when they begin, and they're pleasantly surprised by how much better they feel in their upper back when they finish. The next time you are in need of a little help alleviating that achy tightness between your shoulder blades, try thoracic extension over a foam roll!
Here's all you need to know about performing thoracic extension over a foam roll:
Purpose of this movement: This movement focuses on reducing upper back pain and tightness by improving mobility of your thoracic spine. In particular, it highlights improving spinal extension. Thoracic mobility is a key requirement for dynamic movements like looking over your shoulder or doing anything with your arms over head.
How to perform: Lie on the floor, placing the foam roll across the middle portion of your spine around your shoulder blades. Once in position, support your head with both hands. Then, arch your back over the roll, taking your spine into extension as you keep your hips on the floor. Hold approximately 1-2 seconds, then return to the neutral starting position. Repeat this movement for 10 repetitions, and then move yourself up or down on the roll in order to target a new segment. Perform this at 3 to 4 different segments. The range of where the roll should be placed is anywhere between shoulder blades and very middle of the back. Anything above or below that range tends to not be as effective.
About foam rolls: The one item I'd recommend if you're going to buy something for your neck and back wellness is a foam roll. They are very versatile and are well worth their money if you commit to using it. If you are in need of a foam roll, or are looking to upgrade to a high-density roll that won’t fall apart, I recommend the Extra Firm Foam Roller by J Fit. If you don’t have a foam roll, you can also do this exercise by wrapping a towel around a hard water bottle.
Seated version- Is getting on the floor not for you? Don't worry. You can still perform the same concept of extension over a roll, only you will be seated. Find a low-back chair and place both feet on the floor with a rolled towel at your mid back. Extend your spine. To support your neck, place your hands behind your head or use a pillow case around the base of your head like a hammock for even more support like the picture below. Perform 20 repetitions of extension.
Give this movement a try for a handful of days and notice the difference in your upper back. It certainly works wonders for me!
Leave a comment below to share how thoracic extension over a foam roll works for you. I want to hear! And if you loved this exercise, check out my ebook, The Simple Cure to Neck and Upper Back Pain, for more pain-relieving exercises.
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