These 6 Exercises Can Improve Mid-Back Mobility

Shoulder, neck, or lower-back problems might be due to an inflexible mid-back. This section of vertebrae, called the thoracic spine, extends from the base of the neck to a few inches below the shoulder blades, and has a naturally outward curve. However, when this curve becomes excessive due to chronic postural adaptations, poor loading patterns during workouts, or an accident, it will lose the ability to move freely. When the mid-back is tight, the shoulders become more rounded forward, the rib cage can jut forward and outwards, abdominal muscle contraction is inhibited, and it’s difficult to lift the arms overhead without compensating elsewhere in the body to achieve the movement. 

The thoracic vertebrae have a unique shape, as they are larger in the back than in the front. This creates a wedge which causes the bones to found forward, and acts as a block when you stand up straight. Additionally, the discs between the thoracic vertebrae are shorter, fatter, and less mobile than the discs of the lower back and neck. They have a lot of stability, but not as much mobility. Thoracic spine mobility exercises are becoming more popular with strength training coaches and physical therapists. Extension isn’t enough to increase the mobility of your thoracic spine, so check out the following exercises to keep your mid-back healthy and flexible. 

Add Rotation to Extension

1. Thoracic Windmill With Towel
Lie on your side with a rolled-up towel perpendicular to your body at the level of your shoulder blades. Reach your top arm to the opposite side of the room, allowing the chest to open with it. Complete 8-10 reps on each side. 

2. Quadruped Thoracic Rotation
Start on all fours and bring one hand behind your head. Twist your torso towards your supporting arm, then twist your torso towards the ceiling, opening the chest as much as possible. Complete 8-10 reps on each side.

Mobilize From The Inside Out

Unevenness in the body’s structure can prevent the diaphragm from moving fully, so the muscles in the upper ribcage increase their resting tone. This change in the rib position will cause the shoulders to round and the upper ribs to rotate forward, which limits overall thoracic extension. Adding some breathing techniques can help mobilize the thoracic spine and ribs.

1. Short-Seated Wall Reach
Sit on the floor with your back and hips against the wall. Take a full inhale through your nose, then forcefully exhale through your mouth while you reach forward with your arms. Concentrate on filling the back of the ribcage with air on the inhale, and reaching your shoulder blades far around the ribs as you exhale as far around the front of your ribs as possible on the way out. Repeat 3-4 breath cycles 2-3 times. 

2. Overhead Breathing Squat
Loop two resistance bands over a bar above your head. With one end in each hand, squat down to the floor and repeat the above breathing sequence with your arms staying overhead.

Create New Ranges of Motion With Stability and Strength

Most people understand the link between stretching and improved mobility, and there is indeed a benefit to keeping that part of your fitness program. But, the nervous system has to recognize these changes and create new movements patterns to keep the gains of increased mobility in the body once the training session is over.

1. Thoracic Rotations with Resistance Band 
This exercise combines increased thoracic mobility with functional range of motion in the shoulder. Make sure the hips and lower back do not rotate with the upper body, which is easy to do. Sit on a Swiss ball with a smaller ball between the knees for stability. Loop a resistance band around a bar at shoulder height. Start with both arms out in front of you. Keep the left arm extended at shoulder height, and start to rotate the right arm in a circle above the shoulder joint, allowing the upper spine to twist with the arm. Bring the arm down by the right hip to complete the circle with both arms next to each other. Alternate each rep, completing 8-10 reps with each arm.

2. Modified Reverse Dumbbell Fly
Start with both legs bent, with the left leg slightly in front of the right and the left hand resting on a step. Open the right arm towards the ceiling, allowing the upper spine to twist with it. Use a bit more explosiveness with this move. Complete 8-10 reps on each arm for 2-3 sets. 


Consult your primary care physician before you start a new exercise program. Seek out a qualified personal trainer to complete these exercises safely.

Story Credit