If you have read my other blogs on exercises for lower back-pain you will have already seen the importance of core stabilisation, or at-least the need to understand dynamic stability and correct alignment through movement. But what about spine mobility? Does that play a role too? You bet your aching arse it does! Here are the other blogs in that series:
The mid-spine is called the Thoracic, the bit that your rib cage is attached to and where many of your vital organs are kept. The range of motion available here is quite vast, as you can see from the data circled in red in the following table:
In my experience working directly with people it seems that this area becomes quite stiff due to a lack of movement. Many people do too much sitting, often slouched or slumped over a desk for long periods of time. Now, it's true that posture is largely volitional and that posture itself isn't causative of pain, but lack of movement may be. If the mid-spine lacks movement then the torso has to find that range of motion somewhere and this often leads to the lumbar (lower back) doing most of the work, so it's no wonder that you get tension and pain in that area.
Keeping the mid-spine mobile could help to relieve some of that discomfort. With that in mind here are a few suggestions of how to improve Thoracic mobility and "release" tension from the lower back. I put the "release" in inverted commas because this isn't a physical release, as some gurus might suggest, but more of a neural-emotional release, a change in the sensory feedback from the muscles. Remember that pain is a nociceptive mechanism and starts in the mind - see the Back-Pain Solution for more details.
If you are sat at a desk all day you could try this little routine to get some movement into the correct area. If needs be, set a timer to remind yourself to do a little movement at regular intervals.
This stretch is a good one to do on a daily basis if you do get a lot of tension in the back, or even if you want to increase shoulder mobility for overhead pressing. I find that if I have a lot of tension in the lower for any reason, doing this helps to reduce that sensation and lessen my experience of pain.
The Cat Stretch is a classic Pilates exercise that explores the range of flexion and extension available in the Thoracic spine region, it's simple but effective. When used in collaboration with Thread the Needle, which encourages rotation, it's a great combo of exercises to use every morning to loosen the spine before you start the day, or during your warm ups for exercise. Don't be concerned if you feel or hear a few clicks, that's just the facet joints in the spine realigning themselves.
If you combine mid-spine mobility movements such as these on a daily basis, along with the hip mobility and core stiffening exercises I recommend you'll find your back feels a lot better. But, really, you could do any kind of movement, movement is therapy and it's important to do movements, or exercises that you get enjoyment from. That said, it's still beneficial to get stronger so resistance training is a good idea.
Finally, let me just say that if you have acute pain, that is pain that is new or has lasted for a few weeks only then you should get diagnosed by a pain and movement specialist, a sport physio for example, not a GP. If you have never been properly assessed or confidently diagnosed, the same rule applies. If have been diagnosed and are now looking to rehab and reverse you pain I am available for in person or online consultations.
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