Thoracic spine mobility

We spend the first 9 months of our development in a fetal position and by the age of about four years old we have achieved an upright position. Our movement patterns do not support a healthy dynamic upright posture and it seems that we slip back into the fetal position at an earlier age.

The usual culprits spring to mind.

  • sitting for prolonged periods
  • stress breathing (scalenes, scm, pec minor) muscles over active
  • moving in limited planes (sagittal plane)
  • poor exercise choices (sitting on machines in gym)

Many cervical spine restrictions, shoulder impingement and lower back pain syndromes are caused by a Thoracic spine that is kyphotic and lacks decent extension.

kyphosis, pokey chin, internally rotated shoulders

Lumbar lordosis that is excessive can cause the lower ribs to flare and result in a Diaphragm that is lengthened and weak. This can lead to upper chest breathing patterns and a high threshold strategy.


Place your client against a wall in the anatomical man position. The heels, butt, upper back, back of head and arms including the fingers should sit comfortably against the wall. If this is a struggle you can assume there is a restriction in the Thoracic spine.

Wall test

To make it a bit more stressful but also more accurate place the hands in an under arrest position. Watch for increased lumbar lordosis, pokey chin and hands leaving the wall.

Under arrest position

Place your hands on the ribs and push back towards the wall. If the chin lifts up and the hands come off the wall the Thoracic spine is restricted. A fully mobile Thoracic spine would extend and the chin and arms would not have to compensate.

Pushing the ribs down

A more general test is the overhead squat with raised arms. If your client pitches forward and cannot maintain an upright posture you can assume a limited Thoracic spine.

Overhead deep squat





The testing and treatment of the Thoracic spine I have demonstrated above is just the tip of the ice berg. There are many other tests and treatment protocols. The take home message for today is that as therapists or yoga teachers when we are confronted with a client presenting with pain in the shoulder, cervical spine or lower back instead of treating the pain site we can look a bit deeper and possibly treat the pain source.


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