The spinal column is broken up into three segments known as the cervical spine, thoracic spine, and lumbar spine. Often the neck (cervical spine) and low back (lumbar spine) get a lot of attention because they are frequently the site of pain. However, the thoracic spine is often the cause of many of these injuries because of a lack of motion in its segments. In particularly for swimmers, the thoracic spine is the foundation on which many things happen, most notably shoulder movement.

We have come up with a few DO’s and DON’Ts when it comes to working with the thoracic spine.

DO: Move the spine in 3-dimensions. The thoracic spine is capable of flexion and extension (bending forward and backward), side bend to the left and right, and rotating to the left and right. In all of the 4 major swimming strokes the thoracic spine is constantly maneuvering through these movements. Thus, when training on dry land we must continue to replicate the authentic movements of the spine.

DONT: Keep the spine stationary. The shoulder joint is reliant on the spine to move and since the spine moves at the same time as the shoulder, if we keep the spine stationary we are asking too much demand from the shoulder joint. This can lead to many injuries, including tendinitis, rotator cuff injuries, and labral injuries.

DO: Move the spine and shoulder at the same time. Since they move together in swimming, we shoulder make sure to mimic that movement on land. Regardless of your position for the exercise, make sure the spine is moving alongside the shoulder joint.

DONT: Move the shoulder independent of the spine. Exercises such as bench press, seated rows, seated overhead press, and thera-band exercises cause the shoulder to “grind” on a stationary spine and cause damage to the shoulder complex.

So when you are training, think about the foundation (the thoracic spine) when moving in order to ensure healthy, happy, and strong shoulders.

Please reach out to RISE Physical Therapy for questions or tips on how to treat and train the thoracic spine.