Thoracic spine health of fighters.. is it important?

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Thoracic spine health of fighters.. is it important?

By Dean Phelps on Monday, 15th of September    Tag: Thoracic Spine, MMA, Mauy Thai,

Why is it improtant for mobility, strength and corrective exercise for fighters!

The thoracic spine of fighters!

A flexed thoracic spine, shoulders rounded covering the chin from the sides, elbows in protecting the body and hands up covering the face. This is the position drilled in from a young age and follows many through their journey in many martial arts as it is the perfect position to defend both the head and body.

Now think about the amount of time a fighter spends in this position when training, defending, clinching, punching then competing. Add to this the over emphasis of push type activities with a desire to pump up the front of the body by madly hitting pecs and abs in the gym and suddenly we start to see an imbalance (to much front not enough back) and finally resulting in an overly kyphotic posture carrying over into normal everyday postural behaviours.

Too frequently I see fighters adopting this increase in kyphotic resting posture because of the above senario. This imbalance and the resulting increase in thoracic kyphosis can lead to ‘Thoracic Dysfunction’.

Thoracic dysfunction is the inability of the thoracic spine to move and function correctly. With an increase in thoracic kyphosis, the spine is in a suboptimal position to achieve normal joint function and can result in limited movement in thoracic extension, lateral flexion (side bend) and rotation. There is also a flow on affect to the joints of the cervical spine(neck) above, the lumbar spine below it and the shoulder complex. Not to mention the many muscles in and around this area that that can be also affected.

Some are asymptomatic (not a problem) at the time, others it may well be a contributing factor to their presenting complaint or be an area responsible for potential future ailments in and around this area.

For example thoracic dysfunction can be implicated in shoulder injuries and/or dysfunction (eg impingement), cervicogenic (neck) pain, head ache, costovertabral and sternocostal (rib) joint pain and/or dysfunction, plus lower back pain just to name a few.

Now I’m not saying that the thoracic spine is the always the main contributing factor to the above ailments, nor am I suggesting that the world revolves around this area like some therapists have proposed. But in fighters it is an area that lacks the consideration and attention it deserves in the gym for prehabilitaion; reducing risk of injury and future dysfunction. It is also a very important area to factor in for rehabilitation of injuries that may be driven to some extent by thoracic dysfunction.

Just like an office worker sitting in front of a computer for prolonged periods of time, a fighter spends a great deal of time in a rounded and kyphotic position, add to this working to much in front at the gym and eventually problems will start to occur.

To combat this I suggest a combination of mobility work and strength. Mobility using the foam roller or back balls to improve and maintain good thoracic extension and vertebral mobility. Thoracic stretches for rotation and lateral flexion, include in this cervical, lumbar and shoulder movements to get the full effect of up and down the chain. Strengthen your back in the gym, adding more emphasis and time working in the opposite direction to your guard to even things out.

Don’t just work ‘girlfriend/beach muscles’, work dynamically targeting these areas. Martial arts is a dynamic sport, not a supported, single plane movement!

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Dean Phelps - Head Physiotherapy

Dean is a registered Gold Coast Physiotherapist with undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Human Movement and Exercise Science. His background has developed his vision for Fighting Fit Physiotherapy to focus on optimal health and peak physical performance for every single patient. Utilising his many qualifications, in depth knowledge of the body and passion for exercise he can provide a holistic approach to your treatment and exercise prescription to get the best outcome.


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