Thoracic Mobility For Paddlers

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Q: What is thoracic mobility? 

A: The thoracic region of the spine includes the twelve vertebrae from your upper to mid back.  Due to increased ligamentous attachments and structures (i.e. your ribs), the thoracic spine tends to have less motion than the neck and low back.  To make matters worse, many of us sit at a desk for work which causes forward, rounded shoulders, and stiffness in the mid-back. For this reason, improving the mobility of your thoracic spine can be difficult.

Q: Why does thoracic spine stiffness cause injuries?

A: Think of the spine like a chain: If certain segments aren’t moving enough, the segments above and below will make up for the lost motion.  In this scenario, the neck/shoulders and low back tend to have increased mobility to make up for decreased motion in the thoracic spine. The segments that are moving excessively are more prone to instability, which places paddlers at risk for injury.  Low back strains and fatigue, neck pain, and shoulder impingement are common injuries that can be prevented by increasing thoracic mobility.

Q. Why do paddlers need thoracic mobility?

A: Paddlers need a high degree of thoracic mobility to allow them to rotate the trunk and increase the distance of their reach in the water.  Stiffness in this area places paddlers at a high risk for neck, low back, and shoulder injuries.

Q: So what’s the solution? 

A: The foam roller is a great tool paddlers can use to improve thoracic mobility.  Do these three exercises every day to improve your stroke and your posture!

Thoracic Rotation Stretch: Start on your hands and knees with the foam roller positioned lengthwise on the right side of your body.  Keep both arms straight and reach your left hand under your right arm, placing the back of your hand on the foam roller.  Rotate your trunk to the right and allow the foam roll to assist your motion. Hold 5-10 seconds and repeat 10-15 times.  Repeat on your left side.

Thoracic Extension Stretch: Place the foam roller under your upper back.  Keep your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.  Place your hands behind your head to support your neck.  Keep your okole on the ground and let your head fall towards the floor as you exhale, then come back up to the starting position as you inhale. Repeat 10-15 times.

Chest Opener: Lie lengthwise on the foam roller with your feet flat on the ground. Keep your arms straight and let them fall out horizontally toward the ground.  Hold 30 seconds.

Catherine Cullison, PT, DPT

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