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Discovering the Thoracic Spine

Discovering the Thoracic Spine

Leeann Taptich DPT, SCS, MTC, CSCS is Co-Author of the new Herman & Wallace offering, Breathing and Diaphragm: Pelvic and Orthopedic Therapist. Leeann leads the Sports Physical Therapy team at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital in Michigan where she mentors a team of therapists. She also works very closely with the pelvic team at the hospital which gives her a very unique perspective of the athlete.

Thoracic SpineAccording to a paper from Manual Therapy, the thoracic spine is the least understood part of the spine, despite the huge role it plays in both movement and in regulation of our Autonomic Nervous System.1 Researchers found that the thoracic spine is the least studied of the three spinal regions; thoracic, cervical, and lumbar. I am frequently asked by fellow therapists for help in objectively assessing and treating the thoracic region which has led to the realization that even amongst experienced therapists the thoracic spine’s importance is less understood especially in terms of its function.

Anatomically, the thoracic spine along with the ribs and sternum provide a frame that supports and protects the lungs and heart. Despite the rigidity that is required to fulfill that function, the thoracic spine contributes significantly to a person’s ability to rotate.2

One of the biggest roles the thoracic spine plays is in the regulation of the Sympathetic Nervous System, which is a part of the Autonomic Nervous System. The sympathetic nervous system, also known as the “Fight or Flight” system is in overdrive in our patients who present with pain. One of the many complications that arise from an upregulated sympathetic system is increased respiratory rate and/or dysfunctional breathing.3 Carefully applied manual therapy techniques to the thoracic region can help regulate the Autonomic Nervous System by affecting the diaphragm, the intercostals, and other respiratory musculature.4 Specific thoracic mobilizations/manipulations can improve respiratory function.4

In the Breathing and Diaphragm course, Aparna Rajagopal and I discuss the importance of the thoracic spine from both a regional and global perspective. Thoracic spine assessment is taught along with multiple mobilization techniques and manipulations all of which will help the clinician link the thoracic spine to the treatment of pelvic pain, low back pain, and breathing pattern disorders. Join Aparna and I in either Sterling Heights, MI this March or Princeton, NJ in December for Breathing and the Diaphragm: Pelvic and Orthopedic Therapists: From Assessment to Clinical Applications for Pelvic and Orthopedic Therapists!


1. Heneghan NR, Rushton A. Understanding why the thoracic region is the ‘Cinderella’ region of the spine. Man Ther. 2016; 21: 274-276.
2. Narimani M, Arjamand N. Three-dimensional primary and coupled range of motions and movement coordination of the pelvis, lumbar, and thoracic spine in standing posture using inertial tracking device. Journal of Biomechanics. 2018; 69: 169-174.
3. Bernston GG. Stress effects on the body: Nervous system. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress/effects-nervous. January 18, 2020.
4. Shin DC, Lee YW. The immediate effects of spinal thoracic manipulation on respiratory functions. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 2016; 28: 2547-2549.

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