Thoracic Mobility and the SFMA

Thoracic Mobility

Let’s talk about how well you’re moving in your mid-back. Thoracic mobility is often limited in most patients we see in our office for one simple reason – we sit too much.

Our society is taught at a young age to sit behind a desk, and the hours only increase as we age. You sit in your car with rounded shoulders for your +20 minute commute, sit at your desk for the better part of 8-10 hours on a computer or the phone, hop back in the car for another 20 minutes, finally to sit on the couch before bed. All of this done with your head in front of your shoulders and a rounded spine. This ultimately leads down a road riddled with shoulder, neck, and back problems!

Let’s figure out if you have adequate mobility through your thoracic spine. We're going to look at two major planes of movement that most people are limited in – extension and rotation.

Thoracic mobility screen: This test is a combination of looking at rotation and extension through your middle back.

To start, sit on your heels on the floor. Place one hand on the small of your back. While keeping your hips over your heels without shifting to one side (No CHEATING!), rotate as far as you can. Optimally we would see at least 50 degrees of rotation. Test both directions.


If you didn't get to 50 degrees, your body is going to recruit other spots to make up for the lack of mobility - ENTER compensation PAIN. If you're limited it may be caused by restricted muscles and connective tissues, the joints of your shoulder or back are stuck/not moving appropriately, or your brain isn't effectively communicating with that part of the body (coordination). Although it is impossible to tell you which one without having you in front of us in office, these exercises are a great place to start.

Try these exercises to help reverse hours of sitting and increase that mobility.

Side lying openers

While laying on one side, bend your knees up to hip height, lift your top arm and rotate as far as you can while letting gravity take your arm down to the ground (without moving your legs). 


Quadruped Rotation

Part 1 - learn to pack the shoulder

Start on all fours, place one hand on the back of your head with your elbow pointing toward the floor, retract your shoulder blade and lift the elbow to parallel to the floor.

Part 2- Thoracic movement

With the shoulder packed, rotate through the mid-back as high as you can without shifting your weight. Remember the idea is to isolate the middle back and increase the rotation and extension through the spine.


These exercises like any, are not going to yield results after one attempt. Add them into your routine for a few weeks and retest your mobility. Increased thoracic mobility is going to take the pressure off the shoulders, neck, and back. Swimmers will have a better stroke, throwers will have a more powerful throw, golfers will have a longer drive - the results are widely applicable. 

Of course this is only looking at one piece to the puzzle. If you are unable to clear the movement screen it can be due to numerous factors (shoulder, core stability, etc) so it is important to get evaluated one-on-one in office and develop a plan specific to your situation.

This mobility screen is only one many that make up the SFMA (Selective Functional Movement Assessment). The SFMA is a movement screen that assesses movement head to toe allowing Boulder Sports Chiropractic to find the root cause of the pain causing problem. To learn more about the SFMA visit the SFMA portion of our website by clicking here. To schedule an appointment call 303-444-5105 or email us. 


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