"I'm here for tight shoulders. Why are we going to talk about the thoracic spine?" Great Question!
What exactly is the thoracic spine you wonder? The thoracic spine is the middle portion of your spine from about the top of your shoulders to the bottom of your rib cage. Why is it important? It is the common culprit for injuries like shoulder impingement and neck pain.
Our thoracic spine stiffens into a rounded or kyphotic position because of our environment and our culture. Most things that we do require a slightly bent forward position - computer work, texting, writing, chopping vegetables, knitting, changing diapers, woodworking, repairing a watch, etc, etc.
As we participate in activities that require more extension and mobility at the thoracic spine it does not always respond as we would like. Movements in CrossFit like kipping pull ups, toes to bar, push press, GHD's all require a large amount of thoracic extension. The nice (and not so nice) thing about our bodies is that our body will figure out how to complete the movement whether or not we have the thoracic spine mobility. That is exciting in the moment but unfortunately this can result in excess movement and perhaps injury to the shoulder girdle or the low back (lumbar spine). It may not happen with one toes to bar but it may happen on the 50th or the 200th.
Your lumbar spine and shoulder girdle anatomically have more mobility than the thoracic spine and they will provide the mobility that the thoracic spine lacks. However the lumbar spine and shoulder are frequently injured areas for just that reason - they have too much mobility. To keep the lumbar spine and shoulders safe from injury you want to minimize the demands placed upon them - this means keeping the thoracic spine as mobile as possible so that the the shoulder and lumbar spine can remain stiff and strong. The thoracic spine is a very uncommonly injured area because of it's anatomical stiffness and stability. But in turn it is at risk to stiffen even further than is typical.
The take home message: everyone can benefit from thoracic mobility exercises! Try one of these 2 during a white board talk and consider keeping up with them long term to minimize the risk of shoulder and low back injury. Good luck!
T spine extension over foam roller: slowly lean back into the foam roller as far as your T spine allows, hold 5 seconds. Repeat 5 times before moving the foam roller to a different portion of your thoracic spine. Remember that your thoracic spine is between shoulder level and bottom of rib cage.
Playful puppy yoga pose: keep your hips high while stretching your hands forward and pushing your head toward the floor. Hold 1-2 minutes.