Tennis is a repetitive motion sport that requires consistent and quality movement while playing. The most common area of repetition is with the overhead serve. Many tennis players who struggle with the serve often complain of shoulder, elbow or even neck/upper back pain. While it is assumed by most players that the shoulder is just tight and needs to be stretched out, which could be the case, there is a more common problem: limited thoracic spine (mid back) mobility!
Why is thoracic mobility important? The thoracic spine, specifically the upper thoracic spine, may be the most commonly restricted area in the locomotor system (1). Limited motion in this area of the spine can be related to cervical spine issues, as well as shoulder impingement and rotator cuff injuries. That is why proper motion in this area is crucial in injury prevention.
Mid back mobility also has a very significant effect on shoulder range of motion. The higher an athlete raises their arm overhead, such as with the tennis serve or throwing a ball, the more thoracic spine motion that is needed to allow full shoulder range of motion (2). If the mid back can not extend to allow the shoulder to fully move, the lower back tends to then hyperextend to get into the desired position when hitting a serve or throwing. Individuals who have had shoulder impingement typically have less thoracic mobility and a more kyphotic, or rounded, posture in the mid back (2). This will lead to compensation elsewhere in the body and that is why those who have limited mobility also have pain/tightness in the shoulder, neck or even lower back as a result.
How can this be addressed and improved? 1. Chiropractic Adjustments A study published by The Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy assessed the effect of thoracic spine manipulation on patients with shoulder pain and found that the immediate effect of manipulation to the thoracic spine resulted in both improved shoulder range of motion and decreased pain (3). 2. Thoracic Mobility Exercises Try out these two exercises below that are focused on thoracic extension and rotation. Assess your shoulder range of motion before and after to see if there was an improvement.
1. Winchester, B., DC, & Liebenson, C., DC. (2011, June 17). A Key Link in the Locomotor System: The Upper-Thoracic Spine. Retrieved from https://www.dynamicchiropractic.com/mpacms/dc/article.php?id=55399 2. Feil, C., DC, & Morgan, W., DC. (2010, May 06). The Importance of the Thoracic Spine in Shoulder Mechanics. Retrieved from https://www.dynamicchiropractic.com/mpacms/dc/article.php?id=54622 3. Strunce, J. B., Walker, M. J., Boyles, R. E., & Young, B. A. (2009). The Immediate Effects of Thoracic Spine and Rib Manipulation on Subjects with Primary Complaints of Shoulder Pain. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy,17(4), 230-236.