A case for mobility work

In the last post we discussed the need for lumbo-pelvic (bottom of the torso and hips) stability and its role in determining mobility and stability relationships throughout the lower body. Today we are going to talk a bit about the value of thoracic (upper back) mobility. When talking about thoracic mobility we have two primary goals. The first is, as always, related to breathing. A tight or restricted upper back can either lead to or be caused by, dysfunctional breathing patterns. Without digging into the chicken or egg argument it’s worth dealing with both. It is also valuable to note that poor thoracic mobility very often goes hand and hand with poor lumbar stability.



The second effect of poor thoracic mobility is where we will be focusing today. This would be its effect on scapulo-thoracic rhythm. Scapulo-thoracic rhythm is simply how the shoulder blades move along the ribs (see pic). When the T-spine gets rigid, it limits the ability of the ribs to move. This limited movement the disrupts the natural movement of the scapula (shoulder blade). This becomes a BIG deal when you consider that the scapula provides the foundation for your shoulder. As you can see in the picture the socket provided by the scapula is much smaller than the ball (of the humorous) that rests in it.


When movement at the scapula is limited that ball tends to shift out of that socket to create motion, putting a great deal of force on the surrounding soft tissue such as the rotator cuff and labrum. We use those two examples because most folks have heard of them, but there are a myriad of other dysfunctional or painful patterns from the shoulder to the elbow to the wrist that can follow.

Improving thoracic mobility can’t guarantee good scapulo-thoracic rhythm, but poor thoracic mobility can certainly guarantee flawed scapulo-thoracic rhythm. As the ribs begin to move smoothly, some basic reprograming work with a qualified professional may be necessary to complete the process. Your take away point from these last two articles is actually pretty simple. Your lumbar spine is meant to be stable, if you work to stabilize it the rest of your movement improves. In the same manner your thoracic spine was meant to be mobile, keep it mobile and your body will move better, you’ll feel better, and your performance will improve.

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