Technically, the thoracic spine is the 12 vertebrae that connect with the rib cage, located between the lumbar and cervical spine. Neck and lower back pain are so rampant in golfers and the general population that the thoracic spine is often overlooked. This is the wrong approach as a large part of avoiding pain in both the lower back and neck may lie in ensuring thoracic spine mobility. Simply put, the body does what is easy, not what is best. As we age the thoracic spine stiffens, as a result we tend to turn the head at the neck (cervical spine) or rotate at the lower back (lumbar spine). A mobile thoracic spine can help avoid or relieve both low back and neck pain by allowing rotation in this key area.
For years golfers in particular have been recommended exercises like hip crossovers and scorpians to ‘warm-up’ the low back, when in reality they should be avoiding exercises that excessively rotate the lumbar spine and instead focus on developing motion at the hips and thoracic spine. Don’t just take my word for it, check out this article by industry legend and the strength coach himself, Mike Boyle. The truth is good motion in golf comes from turning the hips and shoulders, not from rotating the lumbar spine. The bottom line, bad golfers turn at the low back, good golfers turn at the hips and shoulders.
Mobility at the thoracic spine is simpler to develop than you think. Exercises like quadruped rotations or half moons are great options. As is foam rolling the thoracic spine. Alternatively, swap out the foam roller for two tennis balls taped together: place the tennis balls under your back with one ball either side of your spine. Begin at just above the belly button, with the balls in position do five crunch movements. You should feel the balls pushing the vertebrae slightly forward, in effect creating range of motion at that segment. A series of these crunches can be done all the way up to the shoulder blades. The end result is often a large increase in shoulder turn.
If you are bothered by low back pain, neck pain or want more shoulder turn, try the attached mobility exercises. Remembering its not always where it hurts that needs attention, often its the joint above or below thats causing the problem.