Thoracic Exercises

The thorax is made up of the thoracic spine, ribs, sternum, thoracic inlet and diaphragm. It is there as a rigid case to protect your vital organs. It is an area that is often affected by tension and pain in chronic pain and fatigue cases. The sympathetic nervous system that is partly responsible for the fight/flight response sits in this part of the body too as do some of the major lymphatic drainage vessels. Ensuring good mobility can help to ensure good function. Andrew Taylor-Still the founder of osteopathic medicine based his osteopathic philosophy around the fact that structure and function are completely interdependent within the body. If the body’s structure is not at optimum then the function is reduced and visa versa. From an osteopathic perspective a lot of tension relating to stress is held in the thorax and restriction in this part of the body can also make it harder to take a deep breath which can have a knock on effect on our ability to relax.

Apologies for the very anatomical diagrams but it illustrates all the important structures in the chest:


The blue and red are the blood vessels, yellow are the nerves and the green are the lymphatics. The centre image is the diaphragm which attaches around the lower ribs and onto the lumbar spine.

The following exercises can gently help you keep your thorax moving which should decrease the tension and the pain but if you are not able to reduce it and need some gentle hands-on treatment to release the tension we are able to help.

Please Note: If you are concerned about the suitability of any of these exercise then please contact us or your medical provider before proceeding.

Thoracic Mobilising Exercises

These are gentle exercises that are especially appropriate for patients with chronic pain.

Siting Stretch for the Upper Back

Sitting down with good upright posture, run your arm down the side of the chair leg by side-bending your spine. You can make the exercise stronger by using your arm above your head to create more leverage. Repeat to the other side. This is a good mobility exercise for the upper and lower back while sat down, if you feel your back is starting to get stiff.

Cat Camel Stretch

Start in a neutral four point position on your hands and knees, and round your back from an arched position. It should feel like a gentle stretch to your lower back. Don’t over-arch your back; keep it comfortable.

Thoracic Spine Self Massage

Stand up straight, with good posture, and place a spikey ball under your upper back. Gently move the ball in circles to create a massage to your back and shoulder blades.

Other 'Breathing & The Thorax' Toolkits

You may be interested in our other ‘Breathing & The Thorax’ chapters within the Mindbody Toolkit: