Do you hump or not?

Continuing down the body and following on from ‘Chests‘ I thought we’d look at your Spine, specifically your Thoracic Spine. Take off your top and stand sideways in front of a long mirror. We Physio’s consider your spine in four parts and your Thoracic Spine starts just below your neck and ends about halfway down your back where your lowest rib intersects with your spine (see pic 1).


Pic 1

The centre figure in pic 1 shows an ideal spine alignment, with your head in perfect balance atop and your spine sweeping downwards in a series of elegant curves to end at your pelvis which is also perfectly positioned over your ankles, leaving you effortlessly in balance….

…. But to the left and right at the further ends of the spectrum are some slightly less than perfect spines. Check your posture in the mirror again – do they look familiar? Are you more towards one end than the other? If you’re perfect then congratulations! But I have to say I don’t see too many perfect spines…

Pic 2

Pic 2: Dowager’s Hump

The relevance of this is that Thoracic spines are as prone to twinges, aches and pains as anywhere else along the length of our spine and importantly they are often silent offenders in pain elsewhere; around the shoulders, neck and lower back and they can cause headaches. They can contribute to restricted chests as discussed here and can cause back and shoulder muscles to become weak and rubbish – non-techy term – leading to neck and shoulder problems. And with relevance to the title, a faulty thoracic spine can manifest as a ‘Dowager’s Hump’ (pic 2).


So, what can be done about all this?

1. AWARENESS!!! – Let’s all be informed!!! Being aware allows you to adjust. Figure out what sort of curve your thoracic spine holds – compare with pic 1 or work it out is as follows:back flattening wall

  1. See pic 3: Stand with your back to a wall, knees slightly bent and heels about 20cm from wall, arms against the wall palms forward.
  2. Contract your stomach muscles and flatten your lower back against the wall, or get as close as you can.
  3. Holding position 2) draw your shoulders back to the wall and try to get your shoulder blades flat against the wall.
  4. Holding positions 2) & 3) see if you can touch your head to the wall whilst keeping your eyes facing directly forwards i.e. head not tilted backwards and not looking at the ceiling!

Any joy? If you struggle with this one you’re possibly more towards the left, kyphotic side of my spectrum. If it’s easy-peasy then you may have a ‘normal’ thoracic spine or tend towards the right side of my spectrum with a flat, stiff spine.

2. LIFESTYLE & POSTURE – Spending lengthy periods of time in fixed positions is a risk factor, as is poor sitting posture and/or sitting at a computer can lead to any of the problems discussed, particularly if you tend to ‘peer’ forwards with less than perfect eyesight or ‘crane’ your head and back to look at something that is small and detailed. Mother’s nursing babies or constantly picking up small children, cyclists hunched over handlebars, anyone leaning over a workbench… etc etc. So follow guidelines for seated posture, take regular breaks if you spend time in a fixed position and you could try the following few movements…

3. EXERCISES – build a handful of simple exercises into your day or week to tip those niggles into obscurity:

1. Angel wings – this is exactly as the pic 3 tip above and is good if you have a ‘too curvy’ kyphotic spine. Follow points 1-4 and then, if able, with your arms against the wall and palms facing forwards, gently slide your arms up the wall until they’re extended either side of you. Hold this position for a minute.

Thoracic extensions

Thoracic extensions

2. Thoracic extensions – Pic 4; use a foam roller if you have one or a rolled up towel. Lie as shown and gently arch back towards the floor, taking care not to scrunch your neck up – remember you’re working on the stiffness in your thoracic spine. Hold for a few seconds, return to the starting position and repeat 20 times, regularly.


Pic 5: Open Book

3. Open book exercise – Pic 5; Begin in side lying with top leg bent and knee resting on a fat pillow or ball. Slowly sweep your top arm up and over to the opposite side, keeping your knee on the ball and aiming to get the moving hand to touch the floor – a tall order for most! Hold a good stretch for a minute.

Happy stretching and happy spines!

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Jun 19, 2015 by Valerie Dunlop

It's great to see sensibly laid out reminders in this way; such relief can be a literal life saver. Thanks Julie

Sports Massage Therapy, Remedial massage, Physiotherapy // Calder Massage, Hebden Bridge , USA 5.0 5.0 1 1 It's great to see sensibly laid out reminders in this way; such relief can be a literal life saver. Thanks Julie

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