The Pursuit of Flexibility

As the years go by, the pursuit of flexibility can be a wistful bygone goal. In reality we stiffen up a fair bit as time flies. So, what seemed to be regular flexible movement at one stage, now seems difficult to attain. Why do I groan all of a sudden when I’m standing up from a chair ???

Let’s be kind to ourselves here – mobility and flexibility are often impossible due to our lifestyle demands. Similarly, if we do find some free time, is stretching a priority? It seems so boring… Perhaps not?

Well, there is a lot more to flexibility than static muscle stretching…. A lot more!

And best of all, it can genuinely provide relief, positively affecting your mood.

 

Be kind to each other

Many components affect our flexibility including:

Joint Capsule
Muscle
Ligaments
Tendons
Nerves

I am going to focus on joint stiffness in the thoracic (mid) spine as this is a common presentation across office workers. It is also equally common in multiple sports including cycling, rowing, boxing, wrestling and hockey.  Here is why…

The thoracic spine is the area of our spine located between your neck and low back. Thoracic mobility is important for optimal movement. The mobility of spinal joints and their surrounding capsules adapt depending on the activities performed. Multiple sports require the athlete to move with their arms positioned in front of their body, this positional demands often result in the shoulders sitting forward and a round upper back consequently increasing the risk of developing stiffness in this area.

As the mobility of the thoracic spine affects the function of the shoulders, neck and low back, it is strongly recommended to spend time ensuring your thoracic mobility is being maintained. It is all about balance.

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The more time you spend sitting at your desk, or training, then the more time you need to invest in maintaining your mobility and flexibility. To prevent long-term changes the idea is to position your body in the opposite positions from what you train or work in. For most people this will involve mobilising your upper back in extension and in combined extension and rotation. In other words, straightening your spine.

Over the past years I have found the following thoracic mobility exercises to be highly effective in maintaining and restoring thoracic movement:

1.Thoracic extension on foam roller:

Stretches the pectoral muscles and forces extension in the upper back. Ensure your low back is flattened on the roller for most efficiency. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times. You can alter the position of your arms between 90 degrees and 120 degrees to bias different areas of your upper back. See image below.

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2. Segmental flexion and extension over the foam roller:

Place fingers on temples to promote thoracic extension. Position the foam roller horizontally and roll along your upper back. Stop at the segments which feel more uncomfortable and stiff. To bias the mobility at these segments, slowly extend over the roller towards the ground. Support your lower back whilst doing this by tucking your bum in. See pictures below as the athlete moves from thoracic flexion into segmental extension.

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3. Bows and Arrows:

Position yourself in side-lying so that shoulders and hips are in line. Bend your knees so that your hips and knees are in line (this offloads your low back ensuring the movement is coming form your upper back). Outstretch both arms. Reach the top hand past the bottom hand and then pull backwards as though drawing the arrow on a bow. In this drawing back motion, aim to have the top shoulder facing up towards the ceiling. This is a slow and controlled movement and aim for 10 repetitions 2-3 times on each side. See the images below.

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4. Shaking it all out:

Finally, if all else fails….Try loosely and gently relaxing your stomach, if you have ‘a belly’ (everybody does by the way) let it real and hang over your belt. Then gently allow some light  shaking through all the main joints, neck, shoulder, spine, hips, knees, ankles and feet. Just like the way Diego Maradona used to warm up for football games…..

 

 

Tag a friend if you feel this article is relevant to them, or that co-worker who constantly complain of upper back stiffness! If you have any further questions or queries regarding thoracic mobility or wish to purchase a foam roller contact us at Personal Health on 01 4964002 or email info@personalhealth.ie.