Anatomy

Here’s how to strengthen—and gain mo­bil­ity in—your up­per back.

Yoga Journal - - Contents - By Jill Miller

Sur­prise! Your lower-back pain might ac­tu­ally be an up­per-back prob­lem. Here’s why, and how to feel bet­ter.

GOT BACK PAIN? You’re in good com­pany: About 80 per­cent of Amer­i­cans ex­pe­ri­ence back prob­lems at some point. Most peo­ple at­tribute back pain to their low backs (lum­bar spine) or necks (cer­vi­cal spine), but of­ten­times is­sues in the tho­racic spine—the up­per back—are ac­tu­ally to blame.

Al­though the tho­racic spine doesn’t get much at­ten­tion, it’s lit­er­ally the back­bone for your lungs and heart, sur­rounded by your rib cage, which pro­tects these vi­tal or­gans. Of the spine’s 70 joints, 50 per­cent are in the tho­racic spine. If you fac­tor in the ad­di­tional 20 spe­cialty joints (called the cos­to­trans­verse joints) that help your ribs ar­tic­u­late and move, you’ll quickly un­der­stand that your tho­racic spine is a work­horse re­spon­si­ble for two-thirds of the move­ment in your torso—so the odds of some­thing go­ing awry are high.

De­spite the tho­racic spine’s po­ten­tial for move­ment, the unique de­sign of your up­per back and rib cage does not al­low for as much move­ment as you may think. This is to pro­tect your lungs and heart: ex­cess mo­tion here could im­pact these key or­gans. What’s more, the ver­te­brae of the tho­racic spine in­ter­lock with one an­other and act as a hard stop dur­ing back bends—again, to de­fend your in­ter­nal or­gans.

These move­ment-in­hibit­ing mech­a­nisms are im­por­tant. How­ever, if you lack the proper amount of mo­bil­ity in your tho­racic spine, then the most mo­bile junc­tion of your spine—T12/L1, the low­est point of the tho­racic spine and the high­est part of the lum­bar spine—may be­come hy­per­mo­bile to make up for it (par­tic­u­larly in back­bends). Lack of tho­racic spine mo­bil­ity can also cre­ate an ex­ces­sively mo­bile cer­vi­cal spine.

To help keep your cer­vi­cal spine and lum­bar spine pain free, you’ll want to move the tho­racic spine in smart, safe ways to main­tain strength and mo­bil­ity and pre­vent it from re­cruit­ing ex­tra help. Here’s what you need to know.

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