Featured Exercise: Side-Lying Thoracic Rotation Stretch

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!


Exercise of the Week: Cat/Cow Stretch

Exercise of the Week #3:  Cat/Cow Stretch

Yes, you read that right.  This week’s featured exercise is a STRETCH!  I can hear it now.  Mature adults in the voices of whiny, spoiled 6-year-olds.  “Stretching.  I hate stretching!  Do I have to?”  Well, just like eating your vegetables, yes, you have to.  So I thought I would start with a stretch that addresses an area of need that many people struggle with.  THE BACK.  The typical American work life that involves a lot of sitting leaves the body with tight hip flexors, weak abdominals and glutes, and of course tight back muscles.  Especially the paraspinal muscles that run down the back and stabilize the spine.  Maintaining flexibility in the back, along with strengthening the abdominal muscles, is of crucial importance to avoiding major, debilitating back problems.  As the cliche says, “the best defense is a good offense”.  So be proactive and avoid a back problem before it starts by keeping those back muscles loose.  Here’s what you do:

Cat/Cow Stretch

Starting in a quadruped position (on hands and knees) with a neutral spine, knees directly below the hips and hands directly below the shoulders, drop the chin to the chest and round out the spine, reaching the middle of the back towards the sky and feeling a stretch in the back muscles.  Hold for 2-4 seconds.  Then, keeping the back rounded, slowly drop the hips to the heels, feeling the stretch move to the lower back as well as the lats (below the armpits).  Hold for 2-4 seconds.  Slowly return to the starting position, releasing the stretch in the back as you raise the hips off of the heels.  Exhale as you go into each portion of the stretch, and inhale as you come back to the starting position.  Repeat the movement.

(Note: If you currently are having back pain that may be the sign of a more serious condition, you should talk to your doctor before performing this stretch as it may be contraindicated in certain situations)

Feel free to perform this stretch every day, especially when you first wake up.  If you have chronic back tightness and pain, it’s time to get pain-free.  If you don’t have a back issue, then let’s keep it that way!