Joseph Pilates once said, “If your spine is flexible at 60, you are young.” Many activities in modern life, such as working at a computer or looking at hand-held devices, can lead to slumped shoulders and a rounded back, with a loss of spinal flexibility or function.
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There are several extension exercises you can do to correct this tendency and have a healthier - and perhaps even more youthful – spine.
Causes of Kyphosis
Your thoracic spine is in your upper and mid back. It has a natural outward curve, termed kyphosis. An exaggerated thoracic curvature can occur at any age due to poor posture, an accident or injury, or repeated loading in a hunchback position. [see ref 1] Short, tight pectoral muscles can worsen the problem, by pulling your shoulders forward and rounding your back.
If the condition persists, you may develop upper or mid back pain, or you may difficulty reaching overhead. Thoracic spine conditions may also be the culprit in low back or neck pain. [see ref 2]
Prone Back Extensions
Exercises to strengthen the back muscles (spinal extensors) and stretch the muscles on the chest (pectorals) and front of the shoulders (anterior deltoids) can help correct the muscle imbalance. Prone back extensions aim at strengthening the spinal extensors.
1) Lie prone on the mat, with your legs together and your palms facing the sides of your thighs.
2) Pull in your abdominal muscles toward your spine.
3) Exhale as you lift your upper body off the mat and open your chest.
4) Maintain abdominal support to avoid excessively arching the lower back.
5) Inhale as you slowly return to the starting position.
6) Repeat this exercise 10 times.
[see ref 3]
Release Tension with a Foam Roller
Exercising with a foam roller can help relax tight muscles and improve flexibility and symmetry. According to the American Council on Exercise, foam rolling may even release chronic adhesions, or muscle “knots.” (see ref 4) 1) Lie supine and draw your knees up, keeping your feet flat on the floor 2) Place your foam roller crosswise under your upper back. 3) Clasp your hands behind your head with your elbows pointing upward (sit-up position). 4) Slowly roll up and down the vertebrae in your mid and upper back. Avoid the neck and lower back. 5) Do this exercise about 15 times.
Add a Twist
Extensions alone are not enough; rotational movements are also essential for maintaining thoracic spine mobility. 1) Have a cushion and your foam roller nearby. 2) Lie supine with your head resting on the cushion. 3) Keep your right leg straight and bring your left knee up, allowing it to gently drop to the right and rest on the foam roller. 4) Maintain an angle of less than 90 degrees between the top of your thigh and your chest. 5) Reach your left arm out to the side along the floor. 6) Breathe deeply as you relax into this gentle twist. Stay for 1 minute.
You should feel a gentle stretch. Stop immediately if you feel pain. Consult your doctor before doing these exercises if you have any concerns, especially if you have acute pain, an injury, or a condition.