Upper back or thoracic spine stiffness can cause neck, upper back and shoulder pain. Poor postures can lead to upper back stiffness which can also result in poor neck, shoulder and spine mobility. Foam rollers, lax balls or tennis balls can be very helpful in improving mobility and relieving neck and upper back pain. Also helps improve shoulder mobility and function.
Hey guys, this is Manu Kalia, physical therapist and Ayurveda herbalist. So I shot a couple of videos on posture standing and sitting posture, and some of you guys asked me about neck-related problems, shoulder issues, and so what kind of things you need to do to improve the posture not only to prevent those problems if you have those issues, what other things you want to think about for improving mobility so you have less of those issues.
So some of the things you have to think about are, for a lot of people, because of being in prolonged poor posture, so as I mentioned in some of the other videos, if I’m constantly in these rounded postures and I’m always sitting here, I’m going to get stiff through my upper back. My upper thoracic spine is going to get stiff. So if I’m not moving well enough in my upper back, my thoracic spine, it will affect what happens at the neck. So it makes it much harder for me to maintain a better position with my neck and head if I’m getting stiff in my thoracic spine.
And that will also affect what happens at the shoulder. So my shoulder girdle, my shoulder blade sits on my ribcage and ribcage is attached to your thoracic spine, which is these vertebrae here. So if my thoracic spine is in a poor posture, if it’s too stiff, it’s not in proper alignment, it sets up a poor base for the shoulder to sit on and also restricts the shoulder mobility. So if I’m rounded in these positions, I just cannot mechanically lift my arm past this point. It just won’t happen because I need to have better thoracic mobility in order for me to do that. So I didn’t lift my arm up further. All I did was I straightened up my thoracic spine or my upper back. So if I’m sitting upright, I can bring my arm up higher.
So if you look at a lot of elderly people in their 70s, 80s, 90s, so some of these things have to do with hereditary, what your mom and dad gave you in terms of your posture and in terms of your structure. And other things are lifestyle choices, what you have done throughout your life, whether you’re a bit more aware and you’ve exercised or you’ve worked on maintaining good posture or you have not, which has resulted in these poor rounded postures. But if you look at the elderly population, you’ll see as a person loses a lot of this range of motion, they get stiffer and they get more rounded. They also lose a lot of this range of motion of the arm as well as neck mobility too. I just can’t move around as easily if I don’t have enough range of motion. So these imbalances affect not even just the local area, they’ll affect everything else in the chain.
So one simple thing, and I shot a few videos on this before, you can work on is work on improving your upper back, your thoracic spine mobility, which will help with shoulder issues, which will help with neck problems, also help with low back problems too. And you can use foam rollers, you can use…these are two tennis balls that you basically tape and tie, you can use lacrosse balls. So you can use different things to improve the mobility of that spine, and I even shot a video on using a wedge to work on, more specifically, mobilize the joint so that you can get in better postures easier.
So the target areas we’re going to go for, especially your CT junction, which is where your last cervical spine neck vertebrae meets your first thoracic vertebrae. So that area tends to be quite stiff on a lot of people. And below that area your T1, T2, T3, T4, those are your thoracic vertebrae, these ones up here, further down too. And you’re not limited to that area, you can even work and you should work on improving mobility throughout the whole chain, but that area tends to be often quite stiff and it contributes to a lot of these problems that I’m discussing.
So in order to mobilize that, let’s start with just the foam roller first, which will be just getting gross mobility of that region. So some of the things you can do, the simplest one would be just to get on a foam roller and we want to work at getting some extension. So I could roll down, let’s say about here. Now I’m going to work at getting some extension, meaning going the opposite direction, stretching out that thoracic spine. Even my ribcage, the local muscles in this area are tightened up, and I usually recommend people that they support their head. So support your head, so I’ll take this one off so you could see, so I support my head.
And what you don’t want to do is you don’t want to do this. This is not what we’re targeting. This is not going to get you the range of motion back. You’re just hinging at your neck. What we want to do is we want to support our head and we want to work at coming from the chest/thoracic spine. So I’m going to go over the foam roller and I might hit different spots, and I roll over the next spot and I’m going to go work at stretching. Hang out, take some deep breaths, sink into it, stretch, mobilize, hang out for a couple of minutes, take some deep breaths, go to the next spot. I roll to the next one and I do the same thing and I work at it, different positions, and I might go a little bit higher.
Now, as you get better, yes, once you get better mobility here and you can open up and you can stretch and go all the way back, you can take your hands off and you can do other things like reaching up with your shoulders and doing these kind of things. But at the beginning I would suggest you work at just getting that thoracic mobility better at different ranges, and so you can open up the ribcage as well as the thoracic spine.
So something more specific is going to be using tennis balls or lacrosse balls. So these are two tennis balls that I’ve taped, and you can get more specific on specific segments. So basically what we’re doing is we’re going to be almost as if you’re putting this on either side of your spine. That’s what you’re doing. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to lay or ride on it on either side of my spine and I can roll back and forth. So I want to go a little higher. So right now it’s right here in the upper part, either side of my vertebrae, and it’s more specific now. I can do the same thing, I could lay on it, take some deep breaths, or I can lay on it and I can work on some shoulder movements going back and forth different positions, up and down. And I might go to the next spot and I’d do the same thing. This is much more specific.
Spend about a minute or two on each one, each position, just working at stretching. So I’m mobilizing those segments, those joints while I’m doing some shoulder mobility in different ranges. I might go out here. I might even do some side-to-side movement in either direction to really—and you might be sore in that region, you might be stiff too, but it’ll really help loosen up a lot of those tissues.
So that was doing on either side of the spine. You could put it lengthwise too. If I want to target just my right side, I could do the exact same thing and I could just lay on just the right side and I could just work on that. Now, that’s a little bit more specific now and I can feel it. So I might move around. And I’m also doing some self-acupressure. So I could roll back and forth. So if there are some knotted tissues, some adhesions, some thickening that’s there because of chronic irritation of that tissue or just tightness and just stiffness, I can work at rolling and breaking down those restrictions, so not only improving the mobility of their joint but also freeing up that tightened up tissue.
So work on those spots and you can get sore. So when you’re first starting up, I’d go a little easy. Don’t overdo it because you’re going to get sore. But as you do it regularly, you’ll start to improve the mobility of that tissue and you won’t get as sore either, and you’ll find that will really make a big difference in your mobility and you will sit up straighter, neck being in a better position, shoulder movement being better too. These are a little bit softer, the tennis balls. The lacrosse balls work really well but they’re pretty hard. So I will start with these and then work your way up.
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