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Physical Therapy for Thoracic Back Pain

Treating Thoracic Back Pain With Physical Therapy

Pain that is felt in the mid and upper back is referred to as thoracic spine pain. If you’re experiencing thoracic spine pain, it’s likely caused by muscle strain due to poor posture, improper lifting, or spending too much time in a seated position. Regardless of what is causing your pain, certain exercises prescribed by a physical therapist, can help to relieve your thoracic spine pain.

What is the Thoracic Spine?

The thoracic spine is the region of your spine between your neck and lower back. It consists of 12 vertebra and 12 pairs of ribs, as well as various muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. Ideally you want your thoracic spine to be flexible and mobile.

However, due to certain activities that result in poor posture, the thoracic spine often becomes stiff and painful.

Before you begin to stretch, you’ll want to release tightened muscles on both sides of your body using a massage ball (a tennis ball works fine too) and/or foam roller.

Start between your shoulder blades

  • Start by positioning your body so that your shoulder blade is over the massage ball
  • Apply pressure onto the massage ball
  • Slowly move around the shoulder blade area and stop briefly at any areas that are tender to allow time for the muscle to release

Next, release the chest muscles

  • Place a massage ball on either the wall or floor
  • Position your chest against the massage ball and apply pressure onto the ball
  • Slowly move around the chest area and stop briefly at any areas that are tender to allow time for the muscle to release

Now it’s time for the lats

  • Place a foam roller on the floor
  • Position yourself so that the foam roller is in contact with your lats and apply pressure onto the foam roller
  • Slowly move up and down over the lat area and stop briefly at any areas that are tender to allow time for the muscle to release 

Lastly, release the upper abdominal muscles

  • Start by positioning your body so that your upper abdominal muscles are over the massage ball and apply pressure onto the massage ball
  • Slowly move around the abdominal area and stop briefly at any areas that are tender to allow time for the muscle to release
  • Ensure that you are not using too much pressure when releasing the upper abdominal muscles because you can compress your internal organs with this one!

Once you’ve released tightened muscles with the above release techniques, you can move on to stretching exercises for the thoracic spine.

Side Stretch

  • Begin in a standing position
  • Reach both hands over head and bend to the left until you feel a slight stretch on the right side of your body
  • Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds
  • Repeat with bending to the right
  • Aim for 3 repetitions on each side 

Doorway Stretch

  • Begin by standing near a door frame
  • Reach and position your hand on the door frame
  • Lean forward slightly until you feel a stretch in the front of your chest
  • Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds
  • Repeat on both sides
  • Aim for 3 repetitions on each side

Forward Flexion

  • Begin seated in a chair
  • Tuck you head in towards you chest while you lean forward until you feel a stretch in your upper back
  • Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds
  • Aim for 3 repetitions

Thoracic Extension

  • Begin seated in a chair
  • Clasp both hands behind your head
  • Arch backwards gently so that you’re looking up at the ceiling
  • Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds
  • Aim for 3 repetitions

Seated Thoracic Rotation

  • Begin seated in a chair
  • Position your right hand on your left knee
  • Use your left hand to grab the back of your chair
  • Rotate you upper back and hold for a count of 10
  • Repeat on the opposite side
  • Aim for 3 repetitions on each side 

Quadraped

  • Begin on your hands and knees
  • Round your upper back until you feel a gentle stretch and then flatten it
  • Alternate between rounding and flattening your back for 15 to 20 repetitions

Scapular Retraction

  • Begin in either a standing or seated position with your arms at your side
  • Squeeze you shoulder blades together and down
  • Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds
  • Aim for 2 sets of 15 repetitions

Wall Slides

  • Begin standing with your back against a wall with your elbows and wrists against the wall
  • Slowly slide your arms upwards, while keeping your elbow and wrists in contact with the wall
  • Aim for 2 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions

If you’re suffering with mid or upper back pain, having an evaluation with one of the physical therapists at Blue Hills Sports & Spine Rehabilitation can help to determine the underlying cause of your pain. In addition to teaching you how to stretch and strengthen your thoracic spine properly, they can also use a variety of other techniques to help minimize your pain and get you back to your normal activities as quickly as possible.  

 

 

 

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