17 exercises to improve your thoracic spine

Did you know that…

Your thoracic spine plays one of the most vital roles in maintaining your posture?

In fact – It is absolutely impossible to attain the ideal posture if the thoracic spine is not addressed.

 

//  Where is the thoracic spine?

thx

The thoracic spine is the area between your neck and lower back. It consists of 12 vertebra, 12 pair of ribs and a multitude of muscular connections.

It’s quite significant actually. It makes up the majority of your torso.

Ideally – the thoracic spine should be mobile and flexible. However, due to poor posture (especially when it’s coupled with prolonged sitting), the thoracic spine becomes stiff. This usually results in the many poor postures that I see on a daily basis.

Poor thoracic function could be the cause of your bad posture!

So having that said, it is imperative that we know how to address the thoracic spine.

 


Disclaimer: All exercises are to be performed pain-free. If you are unsure if you should be doing these exercises, please contact me or see a health professional.


// Thoracic spine exercises

Releases:

Muscular tissue can become “unhealthy”!

Those muscles which tend to be over-active, weak and/or tight can develop knots/trigger points/stiffness. As a result, they are no longer able to function properly. Releasing these “unhealthy” tissues will break down any adhesions, loosen the muscle up and return the “healthy” muscular tissue.

NOTE: Make sure you are able to breathe throughout these release exercises. If you find that you are holding your breath, back off on the pressure being applied.

Aim to hold each position for 1-2 minutes. Feel free to hold it for longer if you are particularly tight in the area.

1. Between shouder blades

shoudler blade ball

Instructions:

  • Grab a massage ball. (tennis or lacrosse ball will work fine)
  • Position your body over the ball as to target the areas as shown above.
  • Apply appropriate amount of pressure onto the ball.
  • Slowly circle around the target area and pause at any areas that illicit more tenderness.

2. Chest

ball chest

Instructions:

  • Grab a massage ball. (tennis or lacrosse ball will work fine)
  • Place ball onto a wall or floor.
  • Press your chest against the ball on the wall/floor.
  • Apply appropriate amount of pressure onto the ball.
  • Slowly circle around the target area and pause at any areas that illicit more tenderness.
  • Move arm around to increase release.

3. Lats

latfoam

Instructions:

  • Place a foam roller on the floor.
  • Position your body on top of the foam roller so that it is in direct contact with the lats (see above).
  • Apply appropriate amount of pressure onto the foam roller.
  • Slowly move around the target area and pause at any areas that illicit more tenderness.
  • You may want to move your arm around to increase the release.
  • Repeat on other side.

4. Upper abdominals

ball upper abs

Instructions:

  • Grab a massage ball (tennis or lacrosse ball will work fine)
  • Position your body over the ball as to target the areas as shown above.
  • Apply appropriate amount of pressure onto the ball.
  • Slowly circle around the target area and pause at any areas that illicit more tenderness.
  • Note: Please take care with this release. Too much pressure can compress your organs!

4. Intercostals

intercostalx

Instructions:

  • With your finger, feel the gaps between your ribs.
  • Starting from the outmost side of your ribs, trace this gap towards the midline.
  • Apply appropriate amount of pressure through your finger tip.
  • Slowly circle around the target area and pause at any areas that illicit more tenderness.

 

Stretches

Now that you have released your muscles, the next step is to stretch! It is important that your body is capable of movement through normal range.

Hold each stretch for a minimum 0f 30 seconds. Make sure you feel a stretch in the targeted areas.

 

6. Side stretch

Side stretch

This stretch predominantly targets the latissimus dorsi muscle.

Instructions:

  • Reach over and bend to the side.
  • Aim to feel the stretch on the side of your body.
  • Repeat on the other side.

7. Front stretch

Chest stretch

This stretch predominantly targets the pectoralis (chest) muscle.

Instructions:

  • Place your outreached hand on a door frame.
  • Lunge forward.
  • Aim to feel a stretch at the front of your chest.
  • Repeat on the other side.

8. Intercostals

These muscles are situated between the ribs. Surprisingly, they can actually get pretty tight!

intercostal stretch

… I call this my sexy pose 🙂

Instructions:

  • Lie on your side whilst leaning on your elbow
  • Bend your body to the upper side.
  • Aim to feel a stretch at the side of your rib cage.
  • Repeat on the other side.

9. Posterior line stretch

Posterior line stretch

Instructions:

  • Whilst sitting down, pull your head down and bring your chin closer to your upper chest
  • Bend forward making sure to round your upper back.
  • Aim to feel a stretch at the back between the shoulder blades.

Mobility

Let’s get moving! You may feel/hear clicks when you perform these mobility exercises. Don’t worry – it’s normal. The tighter your joints, the more clicks you’ll have.

10. Extension

Thoracic extension

Instructions:

  • Place a foam roller (a rolled up towel will work too) on the floor.
  • Lie down on the ground and position the foam roll so that it is in the middle of your upper back.
  • Stretch arms over head and arch backwards.
  • Hold for 1 minute.

11. Flexion

flat round back

Instructions:

  • Get into the 4 point kneel position.
  • Proceed to round your upper back. Feel a gentle stretch at the back as your elongate your spine.
  • Proceed to flatten your back.
  • Alternate between these 2 positions for 20 reps.

12. Rotation

rotation

Instructions:

  • Sit down on a chair.
  • Place your hand on the outer side of the opposite knee
  • With the other hand, grab onto the back of the chair.
  • Rotate your spine (as to look behind you).
  • Oscillate in this position for 10 repetitions.
  • Repeat on the other side.

13. Translations

thoracic translation

Instructions:

  • Try to keep your shoulders level whilst performing this movement.
  • Lean your shoulder to one side.
  • Alternate sides for 10 repetitions.

 

Strengthening

14. Wall angel

angel 1 angel 2

Instructions:

  • Stand with your back to a wall.
  • Keep your back and arms pulled backwards as to remain in contact with the wall throughout movements.
  • Place your arms in the ‘W’ starting position.
  • Transition to ‘I’ position.
  • 10 repetitions.

15. Parallel angel

horizontal retraction

Instructions:

  • Support your chest on a stool. (as to keep your body parallel with the floor)
  • Place your arms in the ‘W’ starting position.
  • Transition to ‘I’ position.
  • Keep your back muscles pulled backwards throughout all movements.
  • 10 repetitions.

16. Side bends

side bend with weight

Instructions:

  • Whilst standing, hold a weight in your right hand.
  • Proceed to side bend to the left hand side.
  • Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 20 times.
  • Repeat exercise on other side.
  • Note: Start at a weight that you are comfortable with. Increase the weight when you are ready to progress the exercise.

17. Rotation in 4 point kneel

thoracic rotation 4pt kneel

Instructions:

  • Get into the 4 point kneel position.
  • Place one hand behind your head.
  • Proceed to twist your body to the side where the hand is on your head.
  • Brace your abdominals. Keep your ribs cage low
  • Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 20 times.
  • Repeat exercise on the other side.

 


Here are the best 17 exercises that I know of that will significantly improve your thoracic region.

Let me know how it goes!

Share some love in the comment sections below! I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

About

I am a physiotherapist who has personally experienced the pain as a result of bad posture. I would like to offer you some of the solutions that I and my patients have greatly benefited from.

View all posts by

30 thoughts on “17 exercises to improve your thoracic spine

  1. Hello Mark,

    I am 32 years old and recently diagnosed with a 4-degrees bend in Thoracic Spine. I am a software Engineer and have to sit the whole day long for work. My spine has bent toward the left side(probably Scoliosis it is, but I am exactly sure), hence creating pressure and pain on the right side of the middle area next to the spine. Please recommend me some exercises from the above which will be useful for regaining of my posture back

    1. Hi Riz,

      I would start with this exercise:

      Bend towards the right side to open up the left side. Make sure that you can feel the painful area stretching.

      Then follow up with a side plank with the right side down:

      At work: make sure you set up your work station that it does not encourage you to slouch to the left side.

      These are great exercises to start 🙂

      Mark

  2. Mark,
    These are great. I had neck, shoulder, jaw, ear pain primarily on right side for several months. When sitting or standing for prolonged periods of time it seems like my right shoulder gets over tired and starts to drop and i feel pain in shoulder blade, traps, etc. Past PT has shown my right shoulder gets tired/weaker faster. Any suggestions to get over the hump?

  3. Hi Mark!
    I am SO glad I found this. I’m 28 and I’ve had bad back pain since I was 16. I always thought it was because I had an epidural with my daughter when I was 16 (yes I know, young mother). Well just recently I started realizing a lot of it has to do with my posture. I’ve been trying to correct it just by sitting up straight and that just makes ithurt worse and any position I sit in just becomes increasingly painful until I eventually just have to lie down or put something behind me to support my back to where I’m really not even sitting up on my own. So I’m glad I found this. I do have another question though. In the middle of my spine I guess on two of the vertebraes (those are the bones you can feel, right?) Well they feel bruised when I lean against anything hard or press on them. Also, in between the bones, you know how there are spaces in between each one? Well on those 2 spaces it feels like its just more bone, or it’s connected by something hard. Do you know what that could possibly be? It makes it very difficult for me to bend over and especially when I’m doing things like bathing my son when I’m finished, I can hardly get back up. It’s like its too painful to move and I have to very slowly stand back up. Anyways thank you for these excersises and thank you in advance!

    1. I forgot to mention that back in 2013 when I was 25 I had another child and I had an epidural then too but the man who did it kept messing it up and he had to redo it about 5-6 times. I know that affected me because the next day I was so sore in the exact spot I hurt in now. I’m just curious as to what it might be called or what I can do for relief. Thanks again 😉

    2. Hey Ana,

      It sounds like you have issues with a structure in the centre of your back.

      This is usually something like a joint, disc or nerve issue. These can make it difficult to bend your back and can make it quite tender to touch.

      Is your pain in the thoracic or lumbar spine? If it is in the lower back (which is where they would have done the epidural injection), you will benefit more from lumbar spine exercises.

      Mark

      1. Ok, so I must be confusing. Starting in the area where they did the epidural and probably down to my tail bone is where it hurts when I bend over and stay stuck in a position. Also, when I lie on my back on the floor or hard surfaces, it feels like I’m going to become unattached… I don’t really know how else to explain that other than its pretty painful. Now in the middle of my back, that’s where it feels bruised so that would not be the epidural site correct? I’m not sure why I was thinking that’s where they did it but now that I’m really thinking about it, its a different pain in the actual area they had done the epidural. I think my back is just so messed up and I’m always trying to self diagnose that I must have mixed up the epidural spot. But the pain I was initially talking about is in the exact area of the picture at the top of the page. The part that feels bruised is in the middle of my back directly on my spine. Sorry for the confusion

  4. Hi Mark,

    I too suffer from forward posture and rounded shoulders, additionally i have a hunchback as well. it is safe to say that I need to start doing exercises. my question is, will it be okay if i do all the excersizes for all the bad postures every day or do i have to start with a certain part like the forward head before i start with the hunchback exercises?

    1. Hey Mustafa,

      You can do all of them if you have the time.

      Realistically – focus on the exercises that you feel give you the most benefit.

      But out of the postures you mentioned, I would try to work on the hunchback posture first as it it difficult to fix rounded shoulders and a forward head posture if your back is that curved.

      Let me know if that answers your question.

      Mark

  5. So glad I found this page, Mark :). I’ve had two rotator cuff injuries repaired – one big one in 2006, which required both open and keyhole surgery ( I had a 3cm full thickness tear, by then 6 years old…), and one smaller one in 2010 (I had big acromial spurs). So I’ve always had shoulder issues! Recently – I sit and write, full time, day in day out – I’ve had quite pronounced pain beneath my right shoulder blade, and I know it must be the hunching and poor posture, exacerbated by my general tendency… and it’s been great to find your exercises, coupled with your really good knowledge. I’ve just been going through them while half-watching The Chase. Feeling so much better already! Pain still there, but I feel stretched out and generally much looser. Will now do them religiously; not just when my back howls in pain! Thank you!

    1. Hi Lynne,

      Thanks for letting me know that your pain is feeling much better with the exercises.

      Have you checked out my post on Shoulder blade pain? Check it out here if you haven’t already.

      I think that will help you out heaps!

      Mark

  6. hey i was lookg for some exercises to me strengthen my thoracic region but i have
    Osteophyte in t2. and i feel alot of pain in that region almost all intire day, so what of these exercises i can do to remove that pain that i feel in my back?

    1. Hi Marccos,

      The T1/2 region is often regarded as a lower neck joint.

      So – although thoracic exercises will definitely help you out with your pain, you would need to focus on stretching your neck too.

      For an extensive list of neck exercises, try this post out.

      It is common to get osteophytes at T2 if you have something called Dowager’s hump. Check out this post for more info on that.

      Mark

  7. Hi! I love this page.. is there by any chance you can email me regarding the thoracic spine? I am a DPT student looking for effective exercises for T4 syndrome.

    Thanks!

  8. My back has been cracking a lot lately at work. I think it is because of my office jobs. I am going to try your stretches for the thoracic vertebrae. Hopefully, I can find some help that way! Thanks!

  9. hi Mark, thank you for the information shared. I have an issue with my spine and ribs. Few years ago, I was diagnosed with pleural fibrosis on my right chest wall resulting in crowding of ribs, curving my spine towards my right and drooping down the shoulder. this has also limited my lung functionality. Few weeks ago, pleural mass was successfully removed and few crowded ribs were released and lung functionality retained to its normal working condition, but few ribs did not release especially the 4 upper ribs and the spine did not retain to its normal. I would be very much delighted to know any corrective exercises to address this issue.

    1. Hi Saikumar,

      The best exercises to releases your crowded ribs is to do the intercostal stretch and translations. (both of which are mentioned above in the post).

      As you are doing these stretches, try to take deep breaths in and imagine the area expanding the area where it is tight.

      You may also benefit from doing side planks on your Left side to help strengthen your muscles to help open up your right side.

      Mark

  10. In side bends like number 16 I find that I frequently struggle to get a real stretch out of it because there doesn’t seem to be much space between the top of my hip bones and the bottom of my ribcage. It feels like I’m pinching the contracted side long before I feel any stretch in the elongated side. Any suggestions on how I could change my form to adjust for this?

    1. Hi Lauren,

      It sounds like you may be hyper extended throughout your spine. Do you have an anterior pelvic tilt?

      If so, it is common to feel squashed/pinched/compression on the contracted side when you do a side bend.

      Solution:

      Before doing the exercise:

      1) You can try contracting your glutes to bring your pelvis into a more neutral position.
      OR
      2) Engage your core/abs to bring your lower chest down.
      OR
      3) BOTH at the same time.

      Let me know if this doesn’t make sense.

      Mark

  11. Hey Mark, thanks for posting these. Been suffering from a back injury for 5+ years and i have never committed myself to these stretches enough to see any improvement. But I will definitely try. The visuals are very helpful but I was wondering if you had any videos doing these types of stretches? Sometimes I dont feel 100% positive I am doing it correctly and the visual is enhanced especially with video. Either way, thanks for posting this. Blessings

    1. Hey Mike,

      Thanks for visiting the website.

      I 100% agree with you that videos of the stretches will make it clearer to see how to do the exercise properly.

      I don’t have any at the moment, but can you tell me which stretch in particular you are having difficulty with?

      Mark

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *