We recently wrote about the importance of the thoracic spine, its role in running and fitness and why T-spine dysfunction is so common in the modern world. In Part 2, we help you assess your T-spine and provide correctives to unlock your back and your potential.
Assessing your T-spine
How can you determine if you're at risk or if there is dysfunction already present? How do you navigate the kinetic chain to find the root cause or causes?
First, look at your regular stance in front of a mirror. You should have a reasonably straight spine without excessive curvature--meaning no hunchback up top, and no excessive C-curve in the lumbar region. If you notice that you naturally stand in a slouched position with the neck and head far forward from the spine, you can assume you're locked up, forcing the body to work overtime to keep you upright. It also means your mid-back muscles are lacking in power or not doing their jobs.
2. Shoulder drills.
Can you raise your arms above your head and get shoulders behind the ears? Can you pull shoulders back and down (packed), straightening the spine and opening the chest--and maintain that form comfortably?
3. Rotation drills.
Try hinging at the hips and stretching your arms out at the side like an airplane. Rotate through the spine like an airplane turning in the air. Can you get your arms to 12 o'clock and 6 o'clock? If not, you may be at risk. Or try the quadruped external rotation by getting on all fours, placing a hand on the back of your head, elbow bent out to the side and rotate the spine, lifting the elbow toward the celling. If you are stuck and can't even rotate, this is a sign your T-spine is locked up.
Road to repair
It's not unheard of for the repairing of a T-spine to take upward of a year, especially if the person is still trying to maintain a training and racing schedule. Functional movement experts and coaches who specialize in this area will usually recommend daily practice to unglue the damage. This doesn't necessarily require the type of volume necessary to become a marathoner. Your daily practice can be done in small micro-sessions and/or short but consistent movement workouts. It also requires 100 percent focus in daily living to promote better posture, better form and turning on the right muscles, while giving others (like the trapezius and pectorals) some long, overdo rest.
Generally speaking, at least three 20-minute dedicated sessions a week plus daily movement of 1- to 5-minute increments are enough to start making changes. Additionally, adding in a functional yoga or pilates class of 60 to 90 minutes at least once a week will accelerate the healing process. It can also increase running fitness in other regards, even if it means giving up one run a week in the ongoing quest to find more time.
If you are still lost as to whether your T-spine is dysfunctional, or you know it is but can't figure out the cause, get a functional movement assessment from a trained professional who specializes in working with endurance. Some pros are even doing online assessments via Skype. Check out functionalmovement.com or ask around in your local network.