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Thoracic spine mobility exercises in aging adults

Updated: May 11, 2023

What causes thoracic pain?


Thoracic spine connects cervical spine (neck) to the lumbar spine (lower back) hence any stiffness and impaired movement of thoracic spine can result in compensatory movement patterns resulting in neck pain and low back pain. Thoracic Stiffness/Pain can be caused by poor posture, prolonged sitting or standing position, and lack of exercise. Kyphosis is very commonly seen in aging population. It starts with slouching or stooped posture and eventually leading to kyphosis due to other underlying degenerative changes overtime.


Postural thoracic pain is a common condition in aging adults and is often caused by poor posture or repetitive strain Top of Form because of the years of maintaining slouch/stoop posture that affects joint biomechanics and causes muscle imbalance along with degenerative changes over a period of time leads to loss of thoracic spine mobility, stiffness and pain. Regular exercises can help to maintain the mobility and strength of thoracic spine and to delay the process of degeneration. Other common causes of thoracic pain with aging are,


1.Herniated disc: With age, the intervertebral discs of the thoracic spine can lose height and water content, making the spine less effective at cushioning and distributing weight. This can lead to pain and stiffness.

2.Osteoarthritis: Wear and tear on the joints of the thoracic spine can lead to osteoarthritis, which can cause pain, stiffness and limited mobility.

3.Vertebral Compression Fractures: The vertebrae of the thoracic spine weaken over time and become more susceptible to fracture. This can cause sudden, severe pain in the thoracic spine.

4.Scoliosis: Older people can experience changes in the position of their spine that can lead to scoliosis and the associated pain and discomfort.

5.Degenerative Disc Disease: With age, the intervertebral discs of the thoracic spine can lose height and water content, making the spine less effective at cushioning and distributing weight. This can lead to pain and stiffness.

6.Spinal stenosis: With age, the spinal canal narrows, compressing the nerves that run through the thoracic spine, causing pain and other symptoms. If you are an aging adult experiencing thoracic pain, it is important to see your doctor to determine the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.


Contact Mobile PhysioCare if you have thoracic pain for a thorough assessment and customized exercise program.



How to prevent thoracic pain related to posture?


Here are some tips and exercises to help manage postural pain in aging adults.


1. Improve your posture: Sit upright and avoid slouching or slouching. Keep your shoulders relaxed and avoid slouching. You can also use a loin roll or rolled up towel to support your lower back while sitting.


2. Take breaks: If you've been sitting for too long, take a break every 30-60 minutes to stand up, stretch, or move.


3. Stretching: Regular stretching helps release tension in the thoracic spine. Good stretches to try include chest stretches, wall angels, and cat cow stretches.


4. Strengthen your back and core: Exercises that strengthen your back and core can help improve your posture and relieve chest pain. Try exercises like Plank, Bird Dog, and Superman.


Mobile PhysioCare provides Physical therapy services in Edgewater. We provide physical therapy services in the comfort of your home. Call today to make an appointment.


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What are the exercises to decrease thoracic pain and to improve thoracic spine mobility?


Thoracic mobility exercises help with a variety of conditions that affect the thoracic spine and surrounding areas. Faulty posture such as kyphosis or slouch posture limits shoulder range of motion that can result in shoulder pain and dysfunction. Studies show thoracic mobility exercises can help improve shoulder mobility and reduce pain in shoulder impingement syndrome. It can help improve posture by reducing chest stiffness and improving alignment of the spine and shoulders.


It is important to note that thoracic mobility exercises should be performed under the guidance of a qualified medical professional, especially if you have a medical condition or injury. thoracic mobility exercises are designed to improve the mobility of your upper back (thoracic spine) and rib cage. These exercises are important for maintaining correct posture, relieving pain, and preventing injury. Below are some research-based thoracic spine exercises.


1.Thoracic Extension exercises: For this exercise, lie on your stomach and place your arms by your sides. Keeping your lower back relaxed, lift your head and chest off the floor as high as possible. Hold this position for a few seconds, then slowly lower your body.

Alternate position: Sit on a chair or bench with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head and gently bend your back to stretch your thoracic spine. Hold for a few seconds, then return to a neutral position. Repeat 10-15 times.


2.Thoracic Rotation Exercise: In a study published in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy, researchers found that thoracic rotation exercise improved thoracic spine mobility and reduced pain in low back pain sufferers. To do this exercise, sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat. Place a medicine ball or weight in front of your chest and twist your torso to the side as much as possible. Hold this position for a few seconds, then turn to the other side.

Alternate positions:

I. Seated Thoracic Rotation: Sit on a chair or bench with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head or cross them in front of your chest. Keeping your hips forward, gently twist your torso to one side. Hold for a few seconds, then turn to the other side. Repeat for multiple reps.

II. Side-to-side thoracic rotation: In a study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, researchers found that side-to-side thoracic rotation improved thoracic spine mobility in healthy participants. To do this exercise, lie on your side with your knees bent and place a pillow or rolled towel between your legs. Place your top hand on your opposite shoulder and twist your torso toward the ceiling. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly bring it back down. Repeat on the other side.


3.Thoracic mobilization exercises using foam rollers: In a study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, researchers found that thoracic mobilization using foam rollers improved thoracic spine mobility in healthy participants. To do this exercise, lie on your back with a foam roller on your upper back. Use your feet to roll the foam roller up and down your back, pausing on areas that are tight or restricted.


Alternate position: Lay the foam roller vertically on the floor, with one end of the roller near your head and the other end near your tailbone. Lie on the foam roller with your back and shoulders resting on it. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows pointing out. Slowly roll up and down along your thoracic spine, starting at shoulder blade level and working your way up your upper back. Use your legs to control the movement and lift your hips slightly off the floor, then roll back down. As you roll the roller, pause on areas that are particularly tight or sore and allow the pressure from the foam roller to release tension and increase mobility. Continue rolling for 1-2 minutes or as long as you feel comfortable. This modified position provides more head and neck support and is a good option for those who have difficulty placing their hands behind their head or who want more neck and head support.


4. Cat and Camel stretches: Researchers found that stretching improved spinal mobility in healthy participants. To do this exercise, start on your hands and knees, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Inhale as you arch your back and lift your head and tailbone toward the ceiling (Cow Pose). On an exhale, round your spine, draw your chin into your chest, and pull your tailbone toward your knees (Cat Pose). Repeat for a few breaths.


5. Shoulder Blade squeeze: Sit or stand with your arms at your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, hold for a few seconds, then release. Repeat for multiple reps.


6. Wall Angel: Stand with your back against a wall and your feet shoulder-width apart. Raise your arms to shoulder height and bend your elbows 90 degrees. Slowly raise your arms toward the ceiling, keeping your elbows and forearms against the wall. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly lower your arms. Repeat for multiple reps.

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