The thoracic spine is a section of twelve vertebrae in between your lumbar spine and cervical spine. (“Thoracic” comes from the ancient Greek word thorax, for “chest.”) The lumbar and cervical spines get a lot of attention, as they cause people a lot of pain.
However, the thoracic spine is just as important to pay attention to as the neck and lower back, since the mobility of your thoracic spine is related to your ability to prevent pain in the cervical and lumbar regions.
As you get older, your thoracic spine gets stiffer. Because of that, we tend to turn the head at the neck (cervical spine) or rotate at the lower back (lumbar spine). A thoracic spine with good mobility can help to avoid or relieve both low back and neck pain by allowing more rotation in the mid-back.
There are a lot of warm-up exercises, like hip crossovers and scorpions, that focus on rotating the lumbar spine to limber up before golf. But actually, good motion in golf is about turning the hips and shoulders, not the lumbar spine.
The best way to get hip and shoulder motion is to focus on the thoracic spine, not the lower back. One great exercise to increase your thoracic spine mobility is this simple tennis ball exercise I got from another TPI Certified instructor, Mike Boyle:
“What you are going to do to mobilize the thoracic spine is to perform a series of simple crunch type exercises while lying on two tennis balls taped together with masking tape or your can even put them in a sock. It’s a simple exercise that you can do at the gym or even in front of the TV. Place the tennis balls under your back with one ball on either side of the spine. Begin at just above bellybutton level. With the balls in position do five crunches. You should feel the balls pushing into your spinal erectors (the big muscles on either side of the spine). The balls are actually pushing the vertebrae slightly forward, in effect creating motion (mobility) at the level of that segment. A series of these crunches can be done all the way to the top of the shoulder blades. The end result is often a large increase in shoulder turn.”
-From Mike Boyle
Doing exercises like this can not only increase your ability to swing a club efficiently, it may also help alleviate pain in the lower back and neck. It’s important to remember that your body is a linked system, and what hurts isn’t always the part that needs treating.
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