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Thoracic Spine Foam Roller Mobilization (General)

Thoracic Spine Foam Roller Mobilization (General)

Suffering from low back pain or neck pain? Mobilizing your thoracic spine on a foam roller may help! This is one of the most common exercises we teach our patients to help them improve and maintain their thoracic extension.


What to do:

  1. Lay down with knees bent and the foam roller placed horizontally underneath the upper back (t-spine)
  2. Start with the roller placed at the lower t-spine
  3. Place your hands behind your neck to support your head
  4. Point your elbows forward (away from your face)
  5. Gently bend backwards over the foam roller and hold briefly
  6. Come back off the foam roller (like a sit up motion) and gently bend backwards again
  7. Repeat for 10-12 reps
  8. Move the foam roller higher up on the t-spine and repeat in at least 3 different places on the t-spine (lower/mid/upper)


Key points:

  • Having the elbows pointed forward keeps the shoulder blades apart (protracted), allowing the foam roller more access to the vertebrae
  • Roller should be placed no lower than the bottom of the rib cage and no higher than C7-T1
  • You can move the foam roller higher up on the t-spine by rolling it up with your elbows or by scooting your bottom further down
  • As you move higher up, the foam roller may start to slide. You can avoid this by lifting up the hips to get a better placement on the foam roller.
  • Feel around for those stiffer segments and spend more time on those areas!
  • Keep the stomach tucked in and the abs tight to help prevent extension from the lumbar segments to get the most out of this mobilization!
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Psoas Stretch

A common contributor to low back pain is tight hip flexors. The psoas originates from L1 – L4 and inserts on the lesser trochanter of the femur (thigh bone). Therefore, when they get tight, they tend to pull the lumbar spine closer to the femur, which drops the pelvis into anterior tilt. Chronic anterior pelvic tilt forces the back to hinge excessively at the lumbar segments, which contributes to the low back pain. In order to get out of it, those hip flexors must be stretched out!

Hip Flexor Stretch How-To Video

What to do:
(1) Start off in a kneeling position, with one leg in front of the other. If kneeling hurts, something underneath to take off some pressure
(2) Tuck the pelvis into a neutral position. If you have trouble with this, place one hand in front of and behind your hips. Think of a hip thrust motion and remember to squeeze the glutes!
(3) Gently shift the torso forward, keeping it upright and perpendicular to the ground. You should feel a stretch in the front of your upper thigh from just moving slightly forward
(4) Hold for 30 secs
(5) Shift your weight backwards to come off of the stretch, then repeat for another 30-second hold
(6) For additional stretch, reach overhead and side bend to the opposite side OR lift up the lower leg (this will also stretch out the rectus femoris, one of the quad muscles)

Standing variation for those who have trouble kneeling altogether:
• Place the knee on a flat surface (chair, stool, coffee table, etc.) with the foot hanging off the edge
• The opposite foot is placed slightly in front of the torso, similar to a lunging position
• The surface on which the knee rests should be just below knee height in order to accommodate for the leading foot, so the hips remain level when shifting the weight forward

Things to remember:
• Avoid having the hips tilt forward and overarching the low back. This means you’ve lost the neutral position and are not getting an effective stretch
• Keeping the hips parallel (i.e., not rotating one side forward) will result in a better stretch
• If you have trouble maintaining a neutral pelvis, do this in front of a mirror and focus on your pelvic positioning