How to Loosen Up Your Stiff Mid Back

Today we’re going over three thoracic mobility drills that will help you loosen up your stiff mid back. Maybe you sit at a desk a lot, or you’re a parent, holding your baby, nursing, feeding, changing, etc.—they all put you in a rounded back position. These will help you remove the stagnation from your life. 

Oftentimes, posture gets demonized, but the lack of movement is the biggest issue. Too much standing, too much sitting, and too much inactivity are all not good. 

These mobility drills are specifically tailored for opening up your mid back–the mid scapular region, basically, from the base of your neck to your lower back. So check these out, share them with a friend, because I know these will be super helpful for you.

I’m Dr. Antonio with Live Loud Chiropractic and Coaching, we are based out of Lafayette, Colorado, which is in Boulder County.


1. The Modified Spinx

The modified sphinx is great because it locks out the lower back so that we can target all of that energy and focus on the mid back. It’s basically a spin-off of the traditional cat-cow. The only difference is that we position ourselves to lock out other areas so that the movement that we’re generating is more tailored to the mid back. 

The mid back is one of the major areas that will get tight because of what we do on a consistent basis, whether that’s inactivity, or being stuck in seated positions in our car, our couch, or work. But even standing too much can also be problematic, because when we’re standing, we usually don’t have the correct ergonomic setup and we’re falling forward. Essentially, our back is just in a hyperflex position or a relatively flexed position, and it rarely moved out of that position. So we’re trying to create more extension within that. 

The classic cat-cow, as you know, is on your hands and knees quadruped, where you draw yourself up towards the ceiling, then drop your belly and back towards the ground. In this position, we get a lot of flexion in our upper back and not a lot in our lower back. When we go down, we get a lot of extension in our lower back, but not a lot of extension in our mid back.

To do the modified sphinx, sit your butt back towards your heels. Your hands should be anywhere from where they initially were, or back closer to your knees. (When I sit my butt towards my heels, it’s called a lumbar lock. Putting my low back into a little bit of flexion locks it down so that  when I do the cat-cow position, I specifically target much more of the mid back.)

I like calling this an undulation. Think of it like a wave or a rope undulating. I want to try to maintain as much movement and fluidity as I can in order to loosen things up. So from here, try going back and forth into extension, flexion, extension, flexion. 

What’s also great about this position is that, because I’ve locked the lumbar out, I can go in other directions. So if I’m in extension, I can tip my shoulders side to side to work on lateral flexion. I can also go into forward flexion and shift side to side. And I can also do rotation. 

Oftentimes we look at range of motion in these specific planes of motion, but we never combine them. But all of these joints have coupled motion patterns that need to work together. 

So we need to be able to go into lateral flexion and rotation, or forward flexion and rotation, or extension, lateral flexion, and rotation. We’ll then be able to carve out and find all of the little sticky points within the joints that oftentimes get overlooked simply because we’re trying to stay in one plane of motion rather than tying them all together. 

2. Thread the Needle

Thread the needle is usually done as a quadruped position, where you take one hand behind your neck, then you bring your elbow down and through, and then you bring it up towards the ceiling. 

But as we have indicated with other movements, such as the Modified Sphinx, when we’re in a quadruped head position, we get a lot of extra rotation or movement, not only from the lower back but also from the hips, because I can shift hips and move everything with it. We’re not isolating the mid back as much as what we’re trying to indicate and trying to do. 

If you’re watching the video, I’m going to show you first from a side view. I like doing this in that Modified Sphinx position, where I sit my butt back to lock out the hips in the lower back so I can’t get as much shifting or extra movement outside of the hips in the lower back. 

So from here, I’ll take a hand behind the neck, I’ll dive it down through the other arm, and then I’ll lift it up towards the ceiling. Then push the bottom hand (on the ground) and your elbow away from each other. You will get five to 10 degrees more rotation just by simply being more active in your twisting. 

Repeat this motion by coming down and up, and creating a flow of undulations rather than a static holding and trying to force it. If you can get a centimeter or two more each time, you’ll improve your mobility. 

Thread the needle can also be done in a wide-leg, standing position, but you’re going to see a lot more rotation from the rest. So if we’re wanting to isolate rotation for the thoracic spine, I find that doing that lumbar lock, or that modified sphinx position helps hold us you can really isolate rotation. 

You will see variations in how much you can rotate, whether your back is in flexion or extension. So you simply play with that. Do I want to be more in flexion and rotate? Or do I want to be in more extension and rotate? 

Neither one is better or worse, we’re just trying to improve all ranges of motions around all of those so that we get the most out of our mid back or thoracic spine.

3. The Half-Kneeling Wall Rotation

When talking about mobility, it’s really important to be able to isolate the area that you’re trying to make move more, as opposed to having all the energy leak out into other areas. When we do the half-kneeling wall rotation, it helps us lock in the pelvis in the lower back so we get all of the rotation through the thoracic spine, which we’re focusing on. 

To start, the knee closest to the wall is up, and the knee further from the wall is down.  This will torque and lock my pelvis into place.

In the video, you can see there are two ways we’re going to swim our arms to increase thoracic rotation.

If I start with my palms together pointed forward, I do an open book, to where I’m trying to get my hand away to touch the wall behind me. But don’t force it. Just keep repeating that motion so that you can soften that direction and improve that mobility and range of motion.

When your arms are wide open, I want you to think about lengthening your wingspan. In doing so, you’re actually going to twist your mid back a little bit more to improve that range of motion. So rather than trying to pull your shoulder blades together, I actually want you to spread your fingertips and your wingspan apart.


The other direction is to then turn into the wall. So again, I’m going to start palm the palm, but this time, I’m going to take the arm that’s closest to the wall, do a nice big arc around the wall. I then will be facing the wall. Then I’ll come back to starting position. 

Because I’m facing the wall, I can push into it to help me turn a little bit more. 

So this is your half-kneeling, thoracic wall rotation. It’s a beautiful exercise for improving the thoracic rotation in your mid back and overall improving the mobility of our thoracic spine for everyone.

Keep up the great work and LIVE LOUD!