Standard #3 A Supple Thoracic Spine
Editors Note: This is the third post of our series designed to help you run for a lifetime. If you're tired of dealing with injuries every time you start running and wonder if you're even capable of running pain-free, this series is for you. You can find Part 1 and Part 2 in the hyperlinked text.
Standard #3 is all about creating a more efficient and powerful runner. The Thoracic Spine or T-Spine for short (the purple bones in the picture below) is the lynch-pin in creating better posture for your low back-the lumbar spine-and your neck-the cervical spine. The 12 vertebrae that compose your T-Spine have rib attachments and protect the bulk of your autonomic nervous system.
Some particularly nasty things happen to your spine when your thoracic segments are stiff and immobile. In the cervical spine, a stiff t-spine means your neck has to move more to make up for the lack of help your upper back should provide (when your head turns side to side or looks up, you spine should move from the top of your neck all the way down to your 4th thoracic vertebrae). That extra motion and work required of the neck leads to an overload of the joints, discs, and nerves in that region. Additionally, your tight t-spine makes it hard for you to bring your head and neck back over your shoulders in neutral alignment. For every 1 inch that your head sits forward from neutral, you add an additional 10 pounds of load to the cervical spine. The typical patient I see in the clinic stands with their head 2 to 3 inches ahead of their shoulders. Can you imagine running with a 20 to 30-pound dumbbell on top of your head? You're going to feel that at the end of the day.
Unfortunately, the problems don't end there for the individual with a tight middle back. Downstream in your lumbar spine, a stiff t-spine will dump force directly through your lower back. The lumbar spine will try to blow off this force by either over-flexing (get ready for a future disc herniation) or over-extending (increasing load on the joints-pinched nerve, anyone?).
And it doesn't stop there. If you can't position your t-spine appropriately, you shut off the flow of power to your hips and shoulders. As the primary engines of your body, your hips and shoulders do most of the work to help you run efficiently. But if your middle back is stiff, your shoulders will drift forward into the dreaded rounded "hey bro, how much ya bench?"-position. Practice that for 7,000 to 10,000 steps per day for a few weeks and you'll notice how your shoulders, traps, and neck just never seem to feel loose and free.
Your hips won't fare much better, as your rounded back position prevents you from ever fully straightening and extending your hips, leading the dreaded "tight hip flexors" problem. That passive drag on your hips from a tight spine will burn through the duty cycles you had available in your hips when you were born, accelerating a degenerative process that was supposed to take 110 years and compressing it into less than half that time.
The solution to the dreaded t-spine stiffness is simple. We'll address how to fix this problem with two videos from our YouTube Channel.
First, you need a strategy to organize your spine into the proper position-in other words, use the Bracing Strategy:
If your spine posture still looks similar to the shape of an exaggerated "S" or like a "C", you probably need to get to work of mobilizing and restoring some suppleness and mobility to your t-spine. The video below will walk you through some of our favorite t-spine and chest wall mobility drills.
This is a standard worth fixing if you don't own it already. Without a good spine position, you are constantly compromising on the best performance for your entire body.
And in the meantime, if you've struggled to figure out how to run pain-free, don't lose another day of your training! Give us a shout via a message here or via our phone or e-mail contact info listed below! Let's work together to solve your running problems once and for all and make you an invincible runner!