Ask the Doc: More on Thoracic Mobility

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by THERESA LARSON, DPT, Marine Corps Veteran, CrossFit Coach

This week’s Lab location for Dr. Theresa Larson was CrossFit USD (University of San Diego) where the 21 Gun Salute Warrior WOD was taking place. The 21 Gun Salute is our nation’s highest display of military honor, and is reserved for visiting foreign heads of state, presidential funerals, and in honor of our fallen troops on Memorial Day![1]

Having the honor to help coach the workout and motivate the men and women who came out to sweat for the fallen was incredibly inspirational. Particularly inspirational that evening was a veteran, Wally, who had lost two limbs and had never done CrossFit previously performed this strenuous WOD along with all the other warrior athletes.

Thoracic Extension Mobility Technique

Thoracic Extension Mobility Technique
Wally is part of my video blog this week to demonstrate how to get thoracic extension. This mobilization is also helpful with flexion due to the orientation of the thoracic facets, so you can kill two birds with one stone and improve two movements simultaneously. As I mentioned in my previous blog about Thoracic Rotation, this segment of the spine (mid back) is the most stable and often the most stiff. Often the low back and neck have to make up for the lack of movement of a stiff thoracic spine.

1) Self-Mobilization for Thoracic Extension

The self-mobilization technique demonstrated in the video is helpful for those of you who sit at a desk all day; CrossFit after work and have stiff lower backs; and/or want to improve your American Kettle-bell swings, snatch, front squat, or just about any other overhead lifts in the weight room. It is more specific than foam-rolling and should be performed along the spinal segments where there are rib attachments only. The good news is that it only takes 5-6 minutes of time to do (with 5-10 bridges at each segment that feels “stiff” to you).

The introduction is performed by CrossFit Coach, Navy SEAL, and Team Red White and Blue San Diego Team Captain, Joseph Molina.

  1. Lie on your back, knees bent, and place the mobility tool (i.e.two lacrosse balls taped together) straight across your spine, starting at the middle of the back below the scapula and moving up to below the base of the neck. With arms crossed over the chest and head on the ground, perform 5-10 controlled hip bridges at each segment.
  2. Next, place a regular foam roller between your shoulder blades and extend your arms overhead as if in a snatch or OHS position. Stay in this extended position — with the help of a friend, as needed — and perform 5-10 controlled hip bridges (3 seconds up and 3 seconds down) once again.

2) Buddy Thoracic Extension Mob:

Do you have a friend or colleague at work or at the gym who wants to do a 2-minute mob session to help relieve mid-back stiffness, neck pressure, or low back pain from poor sitting posture? Check out the mob below.

  1. Have the athlete lie on his/her stomach to push-up into a partial cobra position, as in yoga.
  2. Partners, place the heels of your hands together and put pressure (but not all your body weight) on either side of the spine below the scapula. As the athlete pushes up into the partial cobra, gently oscillate the hands, then allow the athlete to lower to the ground again. Repeat 5-10 times.
  3. As above, work through this for each segment of the upper thoracic spine — with hands below the scapula, mid-scapula, and top of the scapula — for improved positioning.

3) Sitting Mob for Thoracic Rotation and Extension Desk Jockey Style:

Are you a desk jockey who needs to adjust your sitting position? The video talks about correct sitting posture, a contract-relax technique (proprioceptive neurofacilitaion technique) to improve thoracic rotation and extension in your chair, which can give your spine relief from sitting all day long! Truth is, you should not sit all day long; get up every 45 minutes or more and take breaks and/or set up a standing work station. Save your hips, your neck, and your back from poor postures that create unwelcome adaptations, as these lead to poor positioning, poor performance, and further down the line… INJURY!

  1. While seated, find a neutral spine position — that is, your pelvis should not be pushed behind you so that your back rounds nor pushed too far in front so your back is over-extended. Your hip crease should be just above your knees in the chair.
  2. Test for stiffness by crossing your arms at your shoulders and rotating right and left.
  3. Reach across your body to grab the chair seat and then try to rotate around your neutral spine in the opposite direction. Perform this rotation 6-8 times, holding for 6-7 seconds each time.
  4. For improved shoulder position while seated, cross your arms in the I Dream of Jeannie position and then slowly raise them overhead, still maintaining a neutral spine. When you go back to keyboarding, your goal is for each of your shoulder blades to be pointing at the opposite butt cheek to avoid rounding and slouching.

[1] Team Red White and Blue WOD for Warriors Website:

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