Why thoracic mobility is key to better golf | Elastic Golf

Let Elastic Golf help your thoracic spine regain mobility and strength.

Why thoracic mobility is key to better golf | Elastic Golf

Structure and motion of the thoracic spine

The thoracic spine is the middle section of the spine. It starts at the base of the neck and ends at the bottom of the ribs. It is the longest section of the spine, consisting of 12 vertebrae, labelled T1 at the top through to T12 at the bottom. The shape of the vertebrae in the thoracic region form a kyphotic curve. The spinal column as a whole is formed by 33 individual vertebrae, these interlocking bones help protect the spinal cord from injury, while allowing great flexibility for the body to move. Between the vertebral bones are intervertebral discs that provide cushioning for the vertebrae and flexibility for the spine. The thoracic spine is also surrounded by muscles, nerves, tendons and ligaments that help with movement and flexibility.

The sternum is a semi-rigid bony and cartilaginous structure, which sits at the front of the chest. A typical human thoracic cage consists of 12 pairs of ribs and the adjoining costal cartilages, the sternum along with the manubrium and xiphoid process, and the 12 thoracic vertebrae articulating with the ribs. Together with the skin and associated fascia and muscles, the thoracic cage makes up the thoracic wall and provides attachments for extrinsic skeletal muscles of the neck, upper limbs, upper abdomen and back.

In the thoracic spine the facet joints are orientated in the coronal plane, which means the primary movements of the thoracic spine are axial rotation and lateral flexion, in other words twisting and side bending of the spine. Towards the lower thoracic spine the facet joints progressively orientate more into the sagittal plane, similar to the facets of the lumbar spine. This orientation allows for greater flexion or extension movement, in other words forward bending and backward bending of the spine. There is less axial rotation and lateral flexion movement at this lower level.

Thoracic vertebrae also have facets on either side of their bodies, which form joints with the heads of the corresponding ribs known as the costovertebral joints. Each thoracic vertebrae also has various bony prominences, such as the spinous processes located at the back of the bone and transverse processes located at each side of the vertebrae. These bony prominences provide attachment points to the ligaments and muscles of the thoracic spine. In the thoracic spine, the spinous processes are long and slender and orientated obliquely downwards, limiting the movement of spinal extension. The transverse processes also feature facets except in the 11th and 12th thoracic vertebrae, which form joints with the corresponding ribs known as the costotransverse joints.

Function of the thoracic spine

The Thoracic spine forms part of the rib cage, which is an enclosure that also comprises the ribs and sternum at the front of the chest. The rib cage is designed to protect vital organs such as the heart, lungs and great vessels. The rib cage intrinsically holds the muscles of respiration that are crucial for breathing, and therefore has a major ventilatory function in the respiratory system. Together, the costovertebral and costotransverse joints, allow rotational movement of the ribs, which assists in breathing and ventilation. The spinal cord also runs through the centre of the entire spine. The spine is designed to protect the spinal cord, whilst allowing movement throughout the body.

The thoracic spine also links closely to shoulder function and provides attachment to your shoulders through the sternum, for example thoracic spine extension is necessary for shoulder elevation and upper body function. The shoulder joint is a very mobile joint as there is little bony attachment and relies on muscular control and support, especially of your shoulder blades. Shoulder mobility does rely on good thoracic extension and rotation especially for shoulder flexion and overhead lifting. When your thoracic spine sits in a neutral position this helps your shoulder joint sit correctly. Your shoulder blades sit on your chest wall and link with thoracic motion. The shoulder blades move around the chest wall to help shoulder function.

What causes loss of thoracic spine mobility?

Sedentary lifestyles affect a significant proportion of the population. Prolonged sitting has progressively become the normal in the workplace, transportation and modern technology has made this more apparent. Recent research has found an association between prolonged sitting and increased neck, shoulder and low back pain. Often spending all day sitting causes office workers to hunch forward, keep their head forward, and sit with a flexed upper back. Staying in a hunched over position for several hours per day reduces mobility in the thoracic spine. Research has found that individuals who are generally sedentary develop less thoracic mobility, compared to low activity individuals and physically active individuals. The more you move this will improve thoracic spine mobility for individuals of all ages.

Age related changes to your spine also affect thoracic spine mobility. Loss of disc height and osteoarthritic change in facet joints will result in a stiff thoracic spine. This will often affect your shoulder mobility as well, reducing your ability to swing a golf club. It is really important to exercise to improve your mid back mobility and shoulder mobility to combat the age related changes. It is important to keep your body strong and moving. Activities like swimming are great for upper body mobility and strength, breaststroke really helps with thoracic spine extension.

Important movements in the thoracic spine for golf

It is really important to have good mobility in the thoracic spine for playing golf. Improving mobility in this region especially into thoracic axial rotation and thoracic extension can have great advantages for your golf swing. Most of the rotation in your golf swing should be coming from your thoracic spine. Many golfers who lack good thoracic mobility will make other compensatory movements.

They will try to gain rotation through the lumbo-pelvic region by making compensatory movements such as changes in their leg movements, buckling their knees inwards or straightening the knee joint to gain rotation. Other faulty movements include the arms becoming disconnected from the body to try and increase the backswing. This comes at a cost by reducing club head speed due to the lack of separation between upper and lower body.

Poor Thoracic rotation places stress on other areas like the lumbar spine, cervical spine and shoulders, increasing the risk of injury to the lumbar spine, cervical spine, shoulders and other areas of the body, especially when combined with overuse of these movements. Thoracic rotation and thoracic extension are vital to an efficient and robust golf swing.

Great Exercises to regain thoracic mobility

Thoracic spine mobility exercises are essential to any golf fitness program. Thoracic spine mobility exercise can be performed without equipment, or equipment such as the foam roller or Swiss ball. Corrective exercises aim to help open the chest and pec stretch to improve mobility in the thoracic spine. Just lying over a foam roller opens the ribs and chest providing a great pec stretch. The following five exercises will help you improve thoracic spine mobility:

Archer stretch

  • Lie on your side, placing your knees and hips at 90 degrees.
  • Slide your top arm back as if pulling a bow and pull your chest open, keeping your elbow high.
  • Feel your upper back and ribs fold backwards, repeat on the opposite side

Knee rolls with a club over head

  • Lie flat on your back with a club overhead. Place your feet flat on the floor.
  • Roll your pelvis side to side letting your knees follow.
  • Use the club to keep your shoulders on the floor, let your hips separate.
  • Keep your spine relaxed, making sure you do not arch your back.

Prayer stretch with foam roller

  • Kneel on all fours with a neutral back and rest your hands on a horizontal roller.
  • Push the roller forward, letting your chest drop to the floor.
  • Feel a stretch in your upper back.

Thread the needle with foam roller

  • Kneel on all fours with a neutral back and place a foam roller to one side.
  • Place your opposite hand on the roller and push it away from you.
  • Let your chest rotate and feel the stretch behind your shoulder.

Foam roller chest opener with a club

  • Holding a bar, lie on a vertical foam roller ensuring your spine is fully supported.
  • Raise the bar above your head, feeling your chest open.
  • Focus on maintaining stability and be sure not to arch your back or lift your ribs.

Let Elastic Golf help your thoracic spine regain mobility and strength to power your golf swing. Our back programs focus functional movement and will address any mobility restrictions your mid back has, to help get a better shoulder turn in your golf swing. Age and being sedentary can affect your thoracic mobility, so get exercising to keep your thoracic mobility for golf.