The Best Thoracic Spine Stretches

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

In fact – I would say that it is impossible to attain the ideal posture if the thoracic spine is not addressed.

Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. The content provided is for informational purposes only. Use of the content provided on this blog post is at your sole risk. For more information: Medical disclaimer.

(Note: The following thoracic spine stretches will also help address Scoliosis and Thoracic kyphosis.)

Thoracic spine Stretches

Start with Releases: To make the thoracic spine stretches even more effective, I would recommend to release all of the tight muscles that attach directly onto the thoracic spine and rib cage first.

1. Between shoulder blades

(Muscles targeted: Trapezius, Rhomboids, Erector Spinae, Intercostal)

release between the shoulder blades

Instructions:

  • Place the muscles between the spine and shoulder blade on top of a massage ball.
  • Apply an appropriate amount of pressure onto the ball.
  • Slowly circle around the target area and pause at any areas that elicit more tenderness.
  • Once you find a tender spot, move you arm up/down to increase the release.
  • Make sure to cover the entire area between the spine and the shoulder blade.
  • Do not place your spine directly on top of the ball.
  • Duration: Aim for 1-2 minutes.
  • Repeat on other side.

2. Chest

(Muscles targeted: Pectoralis Major/Minor, Intercostals)

chest muscle release

Instructions:

  • Place your chest muscles on top of a massage ball.
  • Apply an appropriate amount of your body weight onto the ball.
  • Slowly circle around the target area and pause at any areas that elicit more tenderness.
  • Once you have found a painful spot, move your arm around to increase the amount of release in the area.
  • Duration: Aim for 1-2 minutes.
  • Repeat on other side.

3. Latissimus dorsi

lat release

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 Latissimus Dorsi. (see above)
  • Apply an appropriate amount of pressure onto the foam roller.
  • Slowly move around the target area and pause at any areas that elicit more tenderness.
  • You may want to move your arm around to increase the release.
  • Duration: Aim for 1-2 minutes.
  • Repeat on other side.

4. Upper abdominals

upper abdominal release

Instructions:

  • Position your body over a massage ball as to target the upper abdominal region. (below the rib cage)
  • Apply a small amount of pressure onto the ball.
  • Slowly circle around the target area and pause at any areas that elicit more tenderness.
  • Keep your abdominal region relaxed.
  • Duration: Aim for 1-2 minutes.
  • Repeat on other side.
  • (Note: Please take care with this release. Excessive pressure in this region can cause injury to your internal organs!)

5. Lower Back

(Muscles targeted: Erector Spinae, Quadratus Lumborum, Serratus Posterior Inferior)

lower back release

Instructions:

  • Place your lower back muscles on top of a massage ball.
  • Apply an appropriate amount of your body weight on top of the ball.
  • Slowly circle around the target area and pause at any areas that elicit more tenderness.
  • Keep your body relaxed.
  • Duration: Aim for 1-2 minutes.
  • Repeat on other side.

6. Intercostals

intercostal releases

Instructions:

  • With your finger tips, feel for the gaps in between your ribs.
  • Starting from the outer side of your rib cage, trace this gap towards the mid line.
  • Apply an appropriate amount of pressure through your finger tip.
  • Once you have found a tender area, maintain the finger tip pressure and take 3x breaths in/out.
  • Make sure to cover as many ribs as you can locate.
  • You may need to use a massage ball to release the intercostal spaces at the back of your rib cage.

Now that all of the tight muscles have been released, let’s start with some of the best thoracic spine stretches!

7. Side stretch

This stretch predominantly targets the Latissimus Dorsi muscle.

lat stretch

Instructions:

  • Assume the position above.
  • Hold onto a door frame with your hand.
  • Whilst anchoring your legs as shown, aim to bend your mid section as much as possible.
    • Use your body weight to sink into the stretch
  • Twist your pelvis away.
  • Aim to feel a stretch on the side of your torso.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on other side.

For more stretches like this, make sure to check out this blog post: Latissimus Dorsi Stretches.

8. Front stretch

This stretch predominantly targets the pectoralis (chest) muscle.

Chest stretch

Instructions:

  • Place your outstretched hands onto a door frame.
  • Lunge forward.
  • Pull your shoulder blades backwards.
  • Do not arch your lower back.
    • (Keep rib cage low.)
  • Aim to feel a stretch at the front of your chest.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

9. Intercostal stretch

The Intercostal 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.
  • Whilst keeping your waist pinned down to the ground, push your torso up right.
  • Aim to feel a stretch at the side of your rib cage.
  • Aim to take deep breaths into the area of stretch.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • To target the lower portion of the side rib cage, perform the exercise with a straight arm instead.

10. Posterior line stretch

best thoracic spine stretches for the back

Instructions:

  • Whilst sitting down, pull your head down and bring your chin closer to your upper chest.
  • Bend as far forward as possible whilst making sure to round the upper back.
  • Aim to feel a stretch at the back between the shoulder blades.
  • Take deep breaths into the area of stretch.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

11. Side stretch with flexion

Area targeted: Side of spine

stretches to the thoracic spine

Instructions:

  • Hunch your upper back region forwards.
  • Side bend the spine away from the side you would like to stretch.
  • Look towards the arm pit.
  • Pull your head towards the armpit.
  • Aim to feel a stretch on the side of your spine.
  • Take a deep breath into the area where you feel the stretch.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

12. Stretch into Extension

Thoracic spine extension exercise

Instructions:

  • Place a foam roller 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.
  • Keep your lower ribs down to prevent over arching of the lower back.
  • Oscillate in this motion for 30 repetitions.

13. Flexion Stretch

cat camel exercise cat camel exercise for thoracic spine

Instructions:

  • Get into the 4 point kneel position. (Position 1)
  • Proceed to round your upper back as much as you can. (Position 2)
    • Aim to feel a gentle stretch at the back as you round your spine.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Alternate between these positions for 30 repetitions.
  • Progression: Try to round your upper back one vertebra at a time. (aka Segmental control)

14. Rotation

thoracic spine 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 30 repetitions.
  • Repeat on the other side.

15. Translations

thoracic spine translation

Instructions:

  • Whilst sitting, slide your shoulders to the side.
  • Keep equal weight distribution between your buttocks.
  • Aim to keep your shoulders level whilst performing this movement.
  • Alternate sides for 30 repetitions.

16. Rotation in 4 point kneel

4 point kneel thoracic spine rotation

Instructions:

  • Get into the 4 point kneel position.
  • Reach your arm as far as possible towards the opposite side. (See above)
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 20 times.
  • Repeat exercise on the other side.

17. Thoracic spine Decompression

thoracic spine stretches

Instructions:

  • Bend over and reach under your toes.
  • Lock your finger tips underneath your toes.
  • Tuck your chin towards your chest. Relax you arms. Lean backwards as you pull your upper back towards the sky.
  • Take a deep breath in to increase the stretch.
  • Hold for 10-30 seconds.
  • Note: Take care with this stretch if you have lower back issues.

Conclusion:

The thoracic spine stretches listed in this blog post will help loosen up every part of your torso!


What to do next…

1. Any questions?… Leave me a comment down below.

2. Come join me on the Facebook page. Let’s keep in touch!

3. Start doing the exercises!

130 thoughts on “The Best Thoracic Spine Stretches”

  1. We originally commented on twisted spine however Im not sure it’s working so I’ll try here..

    Hi Mark,
    My husband would like to know, where it says “aim to rotate in the area where your rotation is originating from” he is rotated from the very bottom, everything is twisted, he has already done this before for a month and a half giving himself a bad shoulder impingement have about gotten the shoulder back in place and straightened out the neck and had caught the twisted torso muscles tightening up severely. Lateral tilt muscles tightened up pretty good and twisted pelvis not so much. The psoas muscle seems to have tightened up. So question is the first time around he started the rotation at the base and rotated all the way up the spine seems this time he is thinking he should start the rotation at the base and only go up above the belt line vs all the way up the spine because the upper part seems ok because he has done rounded shoulders, hunched posture, uneven shoulders, and some shoulder impingement work along with the neck he had mentioned, and the dowingers hump, flared ribs, and lumbar lordosis that he is doing now. Also after three days of the twisted torso and lateral tilt everything is loosening back up fine.
    Thank you for your time,
    Doug and Tanya

    Reply
    • Hi Doug and Tanya,

      Generally speaking – I would address the rotation from the bottom to top.

      Addressing the rotation further down may automatically improve the top.

      Mark

      Reply
  2. Hi Marc, great stretch postures.
    I have problems with my thoracic spine from 1st to 7th vertebra, the whole area is painful and when I roll it out with a 10 cm yoga ball it’s like cutting the muscles off. It frequently causes light to serious extra systoles (up to every 2nd heart beat “missing” over hours or even days – scary) and I’m tired of it. Despite training like calisthenics and yoga I don’t get it under control (and still stay on a BMI of 30 – I’m 60 years old and damaged my spine and joints through excessive competition training until age 40, including a C5-C6 protrusion).
    I’m living in China, no good physio-therapists found until now. So need to find something what I can do myself. Any ideas?
    Thankful for any input which can help me fix the problem.

    Reply
    • Hi Tom,

      The thoracic spine is believed to be able to influence the sympathetic nervous system. This in turn can affect the heart beat.

      If rolling your back into extension is painful, perhaps you need to focus more on stretching into flexion and rotation. See how that goes.

      Mark

      Reply
    • Oh am I struggling to get rid of the pain in my Thorasic spine. I hope and know your stretches WILL be the answers to help me once in for all. One question. When you say oscillate 30 reps oscillate in #12& #14 stretches, do you mean “hover” over a Thorasic spine area and move up and or down, oscillating for seconds instead! IF I’m I’m oscillating, hovering, for how long. 5 secs and move on but 30 x. Thank you. Great stretches.

      Reply
      • Hey Richard,

        Oscillate means to rhythmically bounce at the end end range of the stretch. This should help mobilize the joints in the target area. (Think about how people open/close a door repetitively when they are trying to loosen up a rusty door hinge)

        Mark

        Reply
  3. Hi Mark,
    After a lumbar fusion surgery in 2010, I had a neuro stim device placed to help with chronic pain. Unfortunately the device did not work and upon removal, most of the vertebrae at T 4 was removed along with the cutting of the muscles around that vertebrae in order for the surgeon to remove the device which has left a large divot in my back and constant muscle pain there. I was told I needed to work on strengthening the muscles around the thoracic spine but have no idea what to do. Are the exercises above appropriate for my condition? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hey there Laural,

      The exercises mentioned here will help with reclaiming movement in the thoracic spine.

      As with any exercise that you do, it is important to make sure that you do not push into any pain.

      Do you have a rounded upper back? If so, you might benefit from some of these exercises: Hunchback posture

      Mark

      Reply
  4. Hi mark,
    Over the past 2 years I’ve been having trouble with my thoracic. I feel like my T1-4 area is all out of whack in that I feel like that area is misaligned (When I run my fingers down the vertebrae it’s not a straight line) as I can feel 1-2 of my ribs pressing against me when I breathe. The T2-4 area is also frozen. I’ve tried physio and chiro for a long time and so far not working. What’s your suggestion here? Should I do more face pulls and stretch the pec minor (since it attaches to rib 3-5)?

    Reply
    • Hey Kevin,

      If there is a lateral tilt between t1-4, you may have a degree of scoliosis there. Check out this post: Scoliosis Exercises.

      Is this area flat? If so, check out the Thoracic spine section in this post: Flat back posture.

      Pec minor stretches and face pulls might work, but I would need to do a full assessment to see exactly what is happening.

      Mark

      Reply
  5. Hi Mark,
    Will I be okay to do the above exercises?
    I have cervical dystonia but my whole thoratic area feels twisted.
    Kind regards
    Julie

    Reply
    • Hey Julie,

      It is fine to do. Just make sure you go gentle to begin with and pay attention to how your body responds.

      Do not push into any pain or discomfort.

      If in doubt, definitely consult a health professional before commencing any exercises.

      Mark

      Reply
  6. Hi Mark!
    im doing a personal training course and i have some doubt about the folowing question, can you answer that for me please?
    If a client has a hyper-kyphotic posture due to tight chest and latissimus dorsi muscles and weak upper back muscles, what resistance training/core stability and flexibility exercises would you recommend?

    a. Resistance training/core stability:

    b. Flexibility:

    Thank you

    Reply

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