​T-spine, A Major Player

Jun 29, 2020

Sometimes your source of pain is indeed where you feel it. There was probable tissue trauma from a specific event you can recall and there now resides pain and inflammation where the damage happened. These are easier cases to understand. What about that ongoing nagging pain you have that came out of nowhere? You didn’t “injure” your shoulder specifically that you can recall. Does that mean your shoulder pain stems from a shoulder dysfunction? Maybe. Maybe not.

Of course, nothing works in isolation. Your body feeds and adapts to whatever areas are working well or having to compensate. So, someone having neck pain, shoulder pain, or low back pain may be indeed having it because these areas are dysfunctional, but it could also be stemmed from a poor aligned, poor moving, and dysfunctional thoracic spine. It could even be from its counter part like a dysfunctional rib cage or diaphragm.

The T-spine (thoracic spine) extends in between the cervical spine (neck) and lumbar spine (low back) with 12 bones that create a kyphotic (concave) curve. When the t-spine and rib cage is aligned and moving well, the scapula can rest onto the rib cage appropriately and therefore provide suitable mobility for the shoulder to perform. An area like the shoulder will have a hard time performing well if the t-spine isn’t playing along. For example, in order for a pitcher the throw a baseball there needs to be adequate rotation in the t-spine. Likewise, a swimmer needs adequate extension in the t-spine in order to perform a back stroke.

Proper alignment and movement of the t-spine also effects the neck and low back. A t-spine that cannot rotate well may cause the lumbar spine to excessively rotate beyond its limits. This contribute to a lot of low back pain cases because the lumbar spine wasn’t designed to move outside of a few degrees. Also, a t-spine that is stuck in a flexed, rounded position means the neck and shoulders adapt and sit forward as well. This contributes to not only posture abnormality, but also pain syndromes within the neck.

Okay, we’re not done yet. The rib cage, organs, and diaphragm all feed off of the t-spine too. No pressure. During inspiration the rib cage has to expand giving the diaphragm its ability to contract so it can provide adequate oxygen to the lungs as well as provide stability to the torso and lumbar spine. If the t-spine is limited in extension because of that stooped forward posture all day, the upper muscles of the rib cage increase their resting tone. The shoulders get pulled forward and the upper ribs rotated forward. Now the diaphragm has a harder time fully expanding as well. And lastly, it now can affect how organs sit, move, and function as well. It all can feed off of the t-spine.

Are you convinced the t-spine probably needs some good attention? What now?

Getting adjusted by a good chiropractor is a great first step in the right direction to provide the correct alignment and give that t-spine a fighting chance. If you don’t change your posture at your desk or challenge your t-spine how to move better, then we’re not out of the woods yet. Don’t worry that’s what we’re here for!

Complimenting chiropractic care and physical therapy with some of these at HOME EXERCISES can be extremely helpful at overcoming your pain or condition. Give these a try!

Thoracic Rotation:

  • Thoracic Windmill with towel
  • Muscle Energy Technique for Thoracic Rotation

Thoracic Extension:

  • Foam Roller
  • Prone Extension with Resistance

Give these exercises a go to make your t-spine more mobile and functional! Don’t forget about your posture, breathing, and core use. These all play a role in supporting your thoracic spine to do its job well.

Best of luck! Don’t worry we’re here if you’re still stuck!

Dr. Brit MacLennan

Arvada Sport and Spine Group

Tags: pain, back, spine