What is Thoracic Mobility?
The thoracic spine is the biggest section of the spine that runs between the cervical spine (neck) and the lumbar spine (lower back). This section of joints is super important to all people for efficient posture and movement, but even more so in surfers. Thoracic mobility is the ability to move each of these sections of the spine on each other forwards, backwards and in rotation as well. Ideally a person is able to produce flexion/extension and/or rotation of the thoracic spine independently of the lower back and neck.
Why It's Important:
A surfers paddling position is where the majority of time is spent when out in the water, whether that is cruising up and down the line up, paddling hard for a wave or getting back out to the line up from the beach or after a wave. Ideally when paddling, the lumbar spine is sitting in a neutral and stable position; the thoracic spine is extended (chest up off the board); the scapula (shoulder blades) are set down and back in a relaxed position with the shoulder joint itself relaxed and able to produce full range of motion.
The consequence of having a lack of thoracic mobility into extension means that, in this paddling position the chest is unable to raise up off the board. What happens here for starters is that your board is likely to be weighted heavily at the front so either you are nosediving through the water or compensating so the body is actually too far towards the back of the board which will affect your stance if you can get on a wave.
The second negative from lacking thoracic extension is that you are unable to see far ahead because your eye level is closer to the water and therefore cannot see the next set approaching or you are copping salt water in the eyes all session. Other compensation strategies from a stiff thoracic spine is to hinge through the lower back which loads up the joints and the muscles and results in low back pain. The neck has to extend more and therefore those joints stiffen up and the muscles become tight causing pain, stiffness and headaches. It also creates a terrible environment for the shoulders, they are required to extend and rotate more which causes them to burnout, become impinged and/or tear muscles around the area.
Exercises to Improve Thoracic Mobility:
Foam Roller Extensions:
Lying on your back with the foam roller across the thoracic spine
Roll up and down the area nice and controlled looking for stiff regions
Once identifying a stiff area, control your breathing and on the breath out drop the pelvis to the floor and also the head and shoulders at the other end
Continue to move up/down the thoracic spine until feely nice and loose
Foam Roller Chest Flies:
Lying on the floor with the foam roller running vertically up the thoracic spine
Pushing both hands away from the body above the eyes, control the breathing and on the breath out allowing the arms to push out to the side opening up the chest
Going back and forth with this movement for 10-15 reps
Try to progress to having weights in the hands for extra leverage
Lying on your side with the hips and knees bent up to 90*
Pushing both arms out in front of the eyes as far as possible
Control the breathing and on the breath out take the top arm over the body to open the chest trying to gain as much range of motion as possible without rolling the pelvis back
Begin on your hands and knees next to a sturdy upright pole, doorframe or something else that is graspable
Take the hand that is furthest away from the upright and roll it underneath the body to grab the pole/doorframe etc.
Maintain tension through the arm and edge your way away from the pole allowing your upper body to rotate underneath you
Are you a surfer and wanting to improve your mobility or strength? Book in to see Simon today and he'll make sure you don't miss any more waves! Book online here, or call us on (08) 9448 2994.