By Matt Fitzgerald, Experience Life
Shortly after Jon Boyle, 23, competed in his first triathlon in 2005, he developed pain in his lower back and right shoulder. It bothered him most when he ran, but also while riding his bike and sitting at his desk, where he worked 10 to 12 hours a day as an Internet consultant. Guessing that postural imbalances were to blame, Boyle, who now lives in Boca Raton, Fla., sought help from Eric Cressey, CSCS, owner of Cressey Performance Training Center in Hudson, Mass.
“Right away I saw that Jon lacked mobility in his thoracic [middle] spine and stability in his lumbar [lower] spine,” says Cressey, who specializes in balancing athletes’ bodies. He designed a strength-training program to correct these problems. “The pain went away completely within two months, and I’ve been pain-free for two and a half years now,” says Boyle.
While most people will seldom feel pain directly along their thoracic spine, Cressey and other experts understand that its relative immobility can cause pain both above and below it in the back’s kinetic chain.
Considering how dramatically an inflexible thoracic spine can affect your body, it’s surprising how few people even know where it is. Located in the mid-back, the thoracic spine consists of the 12 vertebrae sandwiched between the five vertebrae of the lumbar spine and the seven vertebrae of the cervical (upper) spine. “The curvature of the spine naturally forms three main segments,” explains Cressey.
These segments each have a primary function. “The lumbar spine and cervical spine are designed to provide stability, while the thoracic spine is designed to provide mobility,” says Michael Boyle, CSCS (no relation to Jon), a Massachusetts-based strength-and-conditioning coach and editor of www.strengthcoach.com. Specifically, the thoracic spine allows you to bend your trunk forward and backward (flexion and extension) and side to side, and to twist your trunk each way (rotation).
For many of us, the thoracic spine does not extend and rotate as well as it should. “Sitting is the main culprit,” says coach Boyle. “When you’re seated, your thoracic spine is locked in a flexed position. Over time, people who spend most of the day sitting lose some of their range of motion.”
Next: 3 Exercises to Correct Back Pain
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