Thoracic (Upper Back) Foam Rolling, Part 1 – Muscle Tension Release

Our poor upper backs get hammered ALL the time. Every opportunity we have to slouch, we do! Think about all the chances we have to round out through the shoulders and upper back (or thoracic spine, in fancy talk)…

Driving…  Sitting at the computer….  Reading the paper or eating…  Slouched on the couch, watching the piggers win the big game….

In other words, most of us spend a lot of time slouched over, without even realizing it. The foam roller, in all it’s goodness, is a great way to balance out all the slumping we do. Unlike foam rolling for most other areas of the body, there are two aspects to consider when foam rolling the area around the thoracic spine.

  1. We have muscles in our upper backs that get tight and stretched out.
  2. We have vertebrae in our upper back (our thoracic vertebrae) that get stiff and kinda stuck together.

These two differences require slightly different approaches. Let’s take a closer look at the muscles that get tight and stretched out. Our slouched posture means our shoulders roll forward and in, and our head drops forward and down, so the muscles on the other side get pulled along with it. The muscles between, on the back of, and just above our shoulder blades bear the brunt of the stretch (we’re talking rhomboids, part of our rotator cuff, and trapezius). Tension developes in these muscles to help counterbalance all the “forward” in this slouched posture – almost like a seat belt strap holding your head back!

Upper crossed muscles - BackWe can’t affect ALL of these with the foam roller, but some of them are certainly fair game! Check out the muscles in yellow above – prime rolling territory to help decrease some of the tension built up by a slouched posture.

Our thoracic spine isn’t just highlighted by the above picture though. It runs the entire length of your ribcage, meaning you can pretty safely foam roll the muslces on your back almost all the way down as well. This means that we can definitely create a tension-relief effect in our lats and erector spinae muscles as well. Yay! Let’s make our muscles feel better!

What it does: Decreases tension in the muscles of the upper and middle back

How to:

Foam Roll Thoracic Roll Start

Foam Roll Thoracic Roll Finish

– Sit in front of the foam roller with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor
– Lay back until your back touches the roller (it doesn’t matter where you start) and put your hands behind your head to support your head and neck
– Lift your hips and lay on the roller, looking straight up at the ceiling
– Push and pull using your feet to roll up and down on the roller
– Remember, ONLY roll along your ribcage (this keeps all your soft squishy bits safe!)

Cruise up and down the roller for 30 seconds minimum (more if you want!) and take a break if needed! Remember that we can target the vertebrae in the thoracic region a little more specificically – we’ll talk about that next week so check back soon!


Disclaimer: This does not constitute medical advice, and not all exercises may be suitable for all people. Please consult your health care professional if you are unsure whether these exercises are right for you. If these exercises increase pain or any other symptoms, please stop immediately and consult your health care professional. For best results, get your doctor, physical therapist, and personal trainer/exercise coach talking for a united approach – as well as your chiropractor and massage therapist if you see these. To find out who I refer to in Beaverton or the rest of the Portland area, please get in touch.