Proper mobility in the thoracic spine is necessary for a number of daily activities and limitations can not only lead to compensation in the neck and low back but also difficulties with breathing. Our costotransverse joints play an important role in breathing. During inhalation our chest expands, our ribcage moves for lung inflation and it is our costotransverse joints which allow this motion to occur. When you have a restricted or aggravated costotransverse joint, it can present as sharp mid back pain, often located just to the side of the spine between the shoulder blades. Appropriate treatment and mobilization of these joints can restore proper movement and ease the sharp pain.
Let’s take a step backwards to ensure we are all on the same page. Mobility is defined as the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion. Restrictions in mobility can be caused from a number of things but two main causes include either contractile restrictions such as muscle tightness OR non-contractile restrictions such as joint movement also referred to as hypomobility. We typically address muscle restrictions with stretching or manual interventions such as soft tissue, active release technique, massage therapy etc. Restoring joint mobility is addressed by implementing exercises/drills to improve neuromuscular control or manual interventions including joint mobilization and manipulation.
So you are probably wondering, besides foam rolling and rotation exercises what can we do to release the costotransverse joints and improve the mobility of our thoracic spine. Here are a couple of exercises you can do at home to help improve thoracic mobility. The materials required for these exercises include two tennis balls and athletic tape (or similar type of tape). You can also be creative and utilize a lacrosse ball, one of your dogs chuck it balls or sometimes I have had patients use a golf ball. Ideally the two balls are taped together with a groove between them. This groove will serve as a space for your spinous processes to rest during the exercises. If you do not have any tape or do not want to ruin the balls you can grab a sock to place the balls in and tie a knot at the end to keep them secure.