Thoracic spine stiffness and shoulder pain
Thoracic spine stiffness and shoulder pain are two regions that can be closely related. Restrictions in the thoracic spine can lead to compensations in the shoulder, causing pain and dysfunction.
The thoracic spine is located in the upper and middle back, and it is designed to provide stability and support to the trunk while allowing for some rotation and flexion/extension movements. When the thoracic spine is stiff, it can limit the mobility of the shoulder blades, which are attached to the ribcage and move in conjunction with the thoracic spine during upper body movements.
This limited mobility of the shoulder blades can cause compensations in the shoulder joint, leading to pain and dysfunction. For example, if the shoulder blades are not able to move properly, it can cause the arm bone (humerus) to impinge on the soft tissues of the shoulder joint during overhead movements, leading to rotator cuff injuries or shoulder impingement syndrome.
Similarly, shoulder pain or dysfunction can also cause compensations in the thoracic spine, leading to stiffness and decreased mobility. For example, if the shoulder is injured or painful, it may cause a person to hold their arm in a protective position, which can cause the thoracic spine to become stiff and limit its ability to rotate or extend.
Therefore, addressing thoracic spine stiffness through mobilization exercises and improving the mobility of the shoulders can help alleviate shoulder pain and dysfunction by reducing compensations in the shoulder joint. Similarly, addressing shoulder pain and dysfunction can also improve thoracic spine mobility by reducing compensations in the upper back.
The images below show two simple mobility exercises that can help improve movement in the upper back area. Move slowly, and stop, or try to modify the movement range, if you are experiencing discomfort.