Featured Exercise: Side-Lying Thoracic Rotation Stretch
The spine has four major segments: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral. The thoracic spine is the segment of the spine below the neck, comprised of the 12 vertebrae that serve as attachment points for the ribs. Not only do they allow us to bend forward, backward, and side to side, but they are the vertebrae responsible for the bulk of our torso rotation. The vertebrae of the thoracic spine are designed for mobility, while those of the lumbar spine are designed for load-bearing and stability. However, years of sitting at a desk in school, followed by years of sitting at a desk at work have left people very tight in the thoracic spine. The result is that when we attempt to rotate our spine, (golf, tennis, housework, gardening, driving) our tight thoracic vertebrae force us to also rotate the lumbar vertebrae, which are not designed for twisting. This leaves us at risk for muscle injury, as well as disc bulging or herniation. The following stretch helps increase thoracic mobility, while eliminating rotation of the lumbar spine. Plus, it just feels GOOD! Here’s how it goes:
Lie on your side with your knees pulled up towards your chest and arms extended out in front of your chest. Your head should rest on the floor. If you need to some extra support for the neck, use a small pillow or roll up a hand towel and place it underneath your head. From this position, rotate the top arm and torso across the body towards the floor on the opposite side until you feel a full stretch or until the top knee starts to lift off of the bottom knee. Don’t allow those knees to come apart. Otherwise the stretch will begin to go into the lumbar spine, where we don’t want it. This stretch can be done as a dynamic flexibility exercise before activity, where you rotate to the full stretch, pause for a 2-count, and then return to starting position and repeat 6-8 times. Or, it can be done as a static flexibility exercise after a workout where you hold stretch for 20-30 seconds, then return to start position. Whichever method you choose, make sure you stretch both sides. It’s a great stretch to start your morning with, and a must for everyone to keep that back HEALTHY!