Anthony Donskov is the founder of DSC where he serves as the Director of Sport Performance. Donskov holds a Masters Degree in Exercise Science & is the author of Physical Preparation for Ice Hockey.
T-Spine and Shoulder Health: A Linked Issue
There is currently a major buzz going on in the strength and conditioning field centering on the concept of thoracic spine mobility. Coaches are actively seeking ways to build mobility in this anatomic region in order to reduce lumbar rotation and enhance scapular stability. The idea revolves around the concept of Kinetic Linkage where each joint is affected by the integrity of the joint above or below. The T-Spine is extremely important. A proximal to distal linkage of the thoracic spine, scapula and GH joint is critical in long-term shoulder health (as is ankle and hip mobility). The thoracic spine needs to be mobile to allow adequate translation of the scapula over its surface. This enhances the GH joint and prevents anterior/superior humeral head migration, which leads to impingement. Take a look at the picture below.
The thoracic spine represents the escalator; the scapula is the person walking. If the thoracic spine loses adequate mobility, the person (scapula) either works harder to climb the escalator, or falls because he is off balance. This leads to altered muscle activation and eventual pathology. Look at the research.
- 34% more rotational stress to the GH joint when there is a 20% loss of trunk power (Kibler, 2001).
- 49% scope proven labral injuries with positive trendelenburg, tight hips (Burkart, 2000).
- 64% of shoulder patients have scapula asymmetry (Micheli).
- 23.6% loss of elevation ROM and 16% loss of strength with T-Spine kyphosis (Kebaestse et al, 1999).
- 23-38 degrees less trail arm ER in the golf swing-senior player vs. early 20’s player (Baker, Mitchell, 2003).
I currently use the peanut (two tennis balls taped together) and the quadruped T-Spine rotation protocol to attack this region. However, a concept I feel needs just as much love is T-spine extension. T-Spine extension aids in:
- Opening up the diaphragm which promotes diaphragmatic breathing
- Opens the sub acromial space
- Enhances stable base for the scapula
- Stretches the lats (which internally rotate the humerus)
- Posteriorly tilts/protracts the scapula which fire the serratus
Check out the video below:
Lat Stretch: To get more extension in the T-Spine simply elevate the box/table.
The T-Spine is an important anatomic region that allows the shoulder to function optimally and functionally. This mobility/activation work can be done before weight training commences and added into mobility circuits. T-Spine extension/rotation can enhance athletic performance and aid in the quest of injury reduction by keeping the escalator moving.