Improving Thoracic Mobility with Pilates
Thoracic spine and ribcage position dictates the function of our shoulder girdle and torso. In today’s society rounded shoulder/forward head is a common postural fault. Driving, working on computers and texting on cell phones all contribute to this dysfunctional posture, sometimes referred to as office posture. Poor postural alignment and movement in the upper spine creates stress in the neck, shoulders and low back as well as a lack of mobility. In ideal alignment the head floats over the shoulders, the shoulders are open and in line with the ribcage, the ribcage is stacked over the pelvis, the pelvis is in line with the knees and the knees track over the second and third toes of your feet. The body is able to hold this ideal alignment with a minimal of energy expenditure and stress. When we don’t have this alignment the body must work hard to keep upright not to mention the daily activities we ask it to do. This lack alignment decreases mobility, inhibits sports performance and can cause neck and shoulder pain or injury.
An easy way to test thoracic mobility is with a Pilates exercise called:
- Lay on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor.
- Reach your arms up to the ceiling and then overhead trying to bring your arms in line with your ears.
- Your low back should not arch and ribs should not pop toward the ceiling.
If you are unable to do this, you have limited thoracic mobility.
In the pilates studio, one of the first things you learn how to do is to breathe properly. By learning to breathe into the posterior and lateral aspects of the ribcage you improve oxygenation of the blood, relax neck and shoulder muscles and engage deep abdominal muscles responsible for stability of the pelvis and torso. This breathing pattern also stretches the intercostals, obliques, rectus abdominis, serratus anterior and the latissimus dorsi muscles. It is a stretch from the inside out.
Adding spinal rotation with directed breathing will also help to improve thoracic mobility.
Learning how to articulate through the thoracic spine into extension is vital. To get good thoracic extension, you must also have proper movement at the shoulder girdle which includes the clavical, scapula and humerus.
By improving the alignment and mobility of the thoracic spine you will improve your posture, reduce the chance of injury to rotator cuff and neck muscles and be able to accomplish daily activities more easily such as putting groceries away. But you will also feel better because you are able to breathe more easily and provide oxygen to the muscles and organs of your body.