With warmer weather right around the corner, spring sport athletes are gearing up for their seasons. The majority of spring sports consist of overhead movement patterns, which require a series of complex movements throughout the body. Thoracic spine, or upper back, rotation is one of the most important components for maintaining a healthy lower back and shoulder throughout the season.
Proper mobility through your thoracic spine allows for the transfer of power from your legs and core. It is easy to compensate for rotational range of motion through your lumbar spine, or lower back. However, if the middle of your back isn’t moving properly it is easy to lose the majority of your strength and power generated by your hips and core for your throwing or shooting motion before it ever reaches your shoulder. If you want to obtain the maximum speed out of your throw or shot, it is vital that you have full rotation through your thoracic spine.
If an athlete is lacking proper rotation through his or her thoracic spine the body will have to find a way to make up for that missing motion somewhere else. Most often the body will “make up” this range of motion in the shoulder. The front of the shoulder is stabilized by a group of ligaments that help to keep the head of the humerus in its proper position against the shoulder blade, or the ball in the socket. These soft tissue structures are prone to stretching out if repeatedly stressed from excessive external rotation of the shoulder. If the ligaments in the front of the shoulder become too loose, additional stress can be placed on the biceps tendon and nerve structures causing irritation or injury for the athlete.
There are various exercises to address limited rotation through your thoracic spine that can easily be added into your daily routine. One of the most common is called an “Open Book”. To perform this exercise begin by laying on your side with your bottom leg straight, your top leg bent to 90 degrees through your hip and knee, and your arms straight out in front of you. Begin by slowly lifting your top arm and rotating your trunk to bring it towards the floor on the other side of your body. If you have limited motion, you should feel a stretch in the middle of your back. Only go as far as you can without lifting your top knee or arching your back!