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An Awesome Series of Stretches for the Thoracic Spine/Mid-back Region

By fitnessforsmartpeople • Back, Exercise, Fitness, Lumbar Spine, Shoulder, Sports Medicine, Thoracic Spine • 20 Jul 2011

Mid-back pain is a common complaint.  The 12 vertebrae that compromise the mid back, referred to as the thoracic spine, articulate with the ribs and are susceptible to stiffness.  Poor prolonged postures and faulty body mechanics contribute to the underlying problem.  A tight, stiff mid back can also have serious consequences for both the shoulder and low back. So I’ve searched the web and viewed tons of videos looking for a series of stretches that get the mid back moving and feeling better.

What is great about this first video demonstration of the Side-lying Thoracic Rotation is that the demonstrator supports the lower body using a pillow/wedge.  For those who are really stiff this is important. If you happen to be more flexible, you can remove the pillow and let the top leg drop to the floor. Like all stretches, motion should be pain free, smooth, and focus on the area targeted, which in this case is the upper/mid back and chest area.

Another great video that demonstrates a variation of the side-lying stretch can be viewed below.  Please note, all movements should be pain free, especially with respect to the shoulder.  If pain is felt in the shoulder at any point, the exercise should be modified to keep the movement free of pain.

Next is a subtle variation of the side-lying windmill stretch.  You may have noticed some repetition and similarities in the first few clips. That’s because these movements are so important, and each variation may emphasize a slightly different area, including different fascial planes. Again, motion should be smooth, pain free and slow, probably a little slower than demonstrated here.  I can’t stress pain free enough as those with tight upper/mid backs often have a compromised shoulder.  A mild stretch in the chest region along with a stretching sensation in various locations of the back is not unusual.  Sharp pain or discomfort in the shoulder is not acceptable.  If you find you can not complete the stretch without pain you may be doing it wrong or have a preexisting issue that prevents you from performing the stretch correctly.  If this is the case, be sure to consult a professional for instruction.

Next we have two thoracic mobility exercises that use the foam roll.  It should be noted simply lying on the foam roll with arms comfortably at your side can help to improve mid-back mobility.

A nice stretch, especially for those who may have a feeling of stiffness but generally have decent low-body mobility, is presented in the next short clip. Just be sure to support your head with your hands and place the apex of the roll at the stiffest part/(s) of your spine. Also note that if you have poor mid-back mobility but good low-back mobility you may compensate with extension in the low back. Therefore, being aware of where the motion is coming from is important. For those with less general mobility, a towel roll can be used in place of the foam roller.

I’ll conclude with a nice general low-back stretch that focuses on the lats.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be relaxed and pain free while stretching.  A gentle pulling/stretching sensation is normal, but pain in any joint is not.  Often when we have stiffness in one area we will have a compensatory dysfunction in another. Special care should be taken to avoid pain in any joint while stretching, but especially pain felt in the shoulder and low back as these joints are already vulnerable.  If you find that you have pain, you can try modifying the stretch or seek professional help from a personal trainer, physical therapist, or chiropractor to ensure you are preforming the stretch correctly and safely.

Good luck and great health!

Fitness for Smart People

Disclaimer:  Please note that this post is for information purposes only.  You should always consult you chosen health-care provider or a trained professional before beginning a new exercise program.  


Photo credit

Image: renjith krishnan /

Shaun received her Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Sciences with minors in Chemistry and Biology from the University of Delaware in 1994 and then completed a professional Masters of Physical Therapy also from the University of Delaware in 1997. Shaun has worked as an aerobic/group fitness instructor, a personal trainer, a massage therapist, an out-patient orthopedic physical therapist, and a consultant for an international credentialing agency that evaluates the educational documents of physical therapists educated overseas. She is currently an advisory board member for the Delaware Academy of Massage and Bodyworks and has taught continuing education for massage therapy practitioners. She also writes online fitness and nutrition articles and runs a blog titled Fitness for Smart People. Perhaps most importantly, Shaun is a mother of four who was forced to deal with a serious injury that left her with permanent nerve damage in her right foot. She understands the unique challenges we all face when trying to get and stay healthy.
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