Physiotherapist examining a patient with back and spinal pain - Cambridge

Why is thoracic mobility important?

The middle part of your back is called your thoracic spine and it does naturally have a bit less movement than other part of your spine like your neck or lower back because it supports your ribcage. However, daily habits and sedentary working often increases the natural stiffness in your upper back, causing shoulder and neck pain and it can even prevent you from standing fully upright or restrict your breathing.

So maintaining good flexibility in your thoracic spine will really reduce pain and improve the way you move so that these other part of your body don’t have to compensate.

How to loosen your spine and improve mobility

These are five of my favourite exercises to help you loosen your upper back, release and stretch out tight muscles and improve your spinal mobility:

Foam rolling your upper back

Foam rolling upper back for thoracic mobility

Place your roller between shoulder blades and link your fingers behind your head and wrap your elbows around the side of your head, so your skull is supported by your hands. Hover your pelvis and uses your feet to press and pull to roll your spine up and down on the roller a comfortable distance for up to 1 minute.

Book opening

Book opening exercise for increasing thoracic rotation - physiotherapy exercise programme

End position for book opening exercise - Cambridge Physiotherapy exercise programme


Lay on your side with both arms pointing in front of you with hands together. Breathe out and turn your ribcage towards the ceiling, allowing your arm to raise and follow the movement until you feel a stretch in your chest. Keep your knees on the floor. At the end of the movement, take a deep breath in and as you breathe out, rotate back to your start position again. Repeat 6-8 times each side

Cat / camel

Cat stretch for upper back and spinal mobility Camel stretch for upper back and spinal stiffness - restore movement

Get onto your hands and knees. Breathe out and curve your spine until you feel a stretch in your mid back, breathe in and allow your spine to arch the other way. Try to keep your elbows straight throughout the movement.

Side to side child pose

Side flexion stretch for spinal mobility

After you’ve finished the cat/ camel stretch, take your hands to one side of your mat and drop your pelvis back to touch your heels and stretch through the side of your spine. Take a deep breath in to increase the stretch and repeat on the other side. 5 reps each side.

Rotate and reach

Rotate and reach exercise for thoracic mobility - physiotherapy Cambridge  

Stay on your hands and knees. As you exhale, slide your right hand underneath your left and turn your ribcage to reach through. Keep your left arm and elbow strong, tall and straight. Inhale as you return back and lift your elbow to turn the ribcage away from your support arm. Repeat 6 to 8 times on each side. Keep the movement slow and controlled.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions at all about how to improve thoracic stiffness.

The Physiofit team.