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Strengthening Thoracic Spine Area?

I hope someone can give me some advice.

I have been to pain management specialists about my mid-back pain and after having an MRI, told me that the discs in my thoracic spine are degenerated and in poor condition; probably due to years of abuse when I was younger.

I am only 43 and refuse to just accept a life of discomfort.

I am fairly strong for a 215lb middle aged guy that works in sales(bench/300, Squat/375 Deadlift/375) but I’m not sure what exercises I could do to rehabilitate this area.

Any advice is appreciated.

  1. Soft tissue work starting with trigger point therapy using a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, Theracane, etc. There is a good book by Claire Davies. But you can get started by placing a tennis ball between your back and a wall and rolling it around looking for painful spots and then rolling them for 10-15 seconds each. Ideally work your whole back, glutes, and hips.

  2. Foam roll the thoracic spine. There are articles on this site that demonstrate this.

  3. Everyone to whom I have recommended Pete Egoscue’s book “Pain Free,” and who have actually done the exercises, have reported major pain relief.

  4. Scapular retraction and stability stuff. Once again, there is some info on this site (look for “wall slides,” for example) and in the Inside Out DVD.

Doing these things consistently every day is the way to get results.

Thats a bad break. I have a bad low back, so for me it was dead lifts / good mornings. I really have no idea but, have you tried chins / hypers? Just a guess.
God Bless Lonnie


Thanks for the response and the ideas. I’ll look up the book and try your suggestions.

I wonder if planks and side planks would help strengthen and re-tighten the erector muscles that surround the spine?

Thanks again,

andersons answer is much better than mine. Go with his LOL.

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Thanks again for the help. I tried the tennis ball thing last night and I feel a lot better already.

Thanks again.

Deadlifts work the upper back along with the lower back. Rack pulls and bent rows will hit the upper back more directly. The degeneration can lead to instability and further injury so you need to ensure absolutely perfect form.

My wife developed similar degeneration in her cervical spine when she was about your age although most don’t get any until about age 50. Everyone has disk degeneration to some extent by the time the age of 75. It’s irreversible.

You talk of rehabilitation. You really need pain management and stabilization. You’re strong now so I don’t think that strength is your issue. I think that the soft tissue work will help and your training should be focused on stabilizing the spine. Horizontal pulls should be emphasized.


[quote]mawg wrote:

Thanks for the response and the ideas. I’ll look up the book and try your suggestions.

I wonder if planks and side planks would help strengthen and re-tighten the erector muscles that surround the spine?

Thanks again,[/quote]

Planks and side planks are excellent for spinal stability, provided that they are performed with a neutral spine. Check out Eric Cressey’s article currently on the home page for an example.

Generally, it’s not so much lack of strength that’s the problem. I would also be surprised if weak erectors are the problem. They are often strong and overactive. Furthermore, it’s endurance of the spinal stabilizers that’s associated with reducing back pain, not so much strength.

Spinal stability is accomplished by the coordination of many muscles, including a number of small ones, and deep muscles (like the TVA) are important and often underactive. It’s the coordination and balance of action among the different muscles that effectively stabilizes the spine.

McGill had this analogy of a fishing pole being stabilized by a number of guy wires, similar to a mast on a sailboat. If any one wire is much tighter than the other wires, the system is unstable. If the tension is equal on all the wires, the system is stable.

Keeping in mind that I am not a professional, I would guess that you have excessive kyphosis which is causing excessive compression and wear on some of your thoracic discs. In my experience with my kyphosis, soft tissue work with a tennis ball and thoracic extension on the foam roller immediately made a HUGE difference, where various exercises and stretches had had little effect on their own.

Once you get the kyphosis unlocked, you can start to get the benefit from rowing and pulling.

I might have forgotten to mention before that walking is very beneficial for back pain. Brace the abdominals to keep the spine stiff while walking briskly. This probably improves endurance of the stabilizers. I walk or hike first thing just about every morning.

In my opinion, disc degeneration doesn’t directly cause the pain. Virtually everyone gets disc degeneration, but only some have pain. Once you get the muscles healthy and functioning and the spine neutral and stable, a lot of people’s pain goes away.


And others, thanks for your thoughtful responses. I have begun the foam roller and tennis ball exercises and have found some relief.

thanks again.

Keep doing them and the relief will keep coming