The Importance of Thoracic Mobility for the Tennis Player

by Lauren Freitas, DPT

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Thoracic spine rotation and extension are key to a competitive tennis game and any rotational sport. Research has shown that elite tennis players demonstrated ~20 degrees more total trunk rotation than non-elite players. At a minimum, you should be able to rotate ~45 degrees in each direction and your rotation should be symmetrical side to side. Our movement challenge for this series will test out your thoracic rotation and compare your mobility on each side.

First, what does this mean for your tennis game? In order for the racket to contact the ball with maximum power and in the correct position for both serves and ground strokes, your upper back needs to move well in both of those directions. Restrictions in thoracic mobility can lead to decreased power and an increased risk of injury to the lower back, neck and shoulder. The thoracic spine is directly connected to the cervical spine and lumbar spine. It has associations with the scapula which affects your shoulder mobility as well. Therefore, by taking care of your thoracic spine, you can indirectly affect the areas above and below it.

Assess your thoracic rotation with our movement challenge!

Thoracic Movement Challenge

Place a dowel/pole across the front of your chest and cross arms over chest to secure it. Sit in a doorway with legs touching the wall. Rotate to the right, then to the left. Does the dowel touch the door jam on each side? Is your rotation symmetrical?

Try the following exercises to address any impairments you find!

Thoracic Extension in Kneeling (10 reps)

Start in kneeling position with elbows on bench. Sit hips back towards heel to lock out lumbar spine. Now arch upper back as you drive chest towards the floor.

Half-Kneeling Rotation at Wall (10 reps)

Kneel with bent leg stabilized against wall. Rotate one arm open to reach the wall behind you without moving hips. Return to start position.

Assisted Rotation/Flexion w/ Resistance (10 reps)

Anchor resistance band. Start in kneeling position with band in the hand furthest away from fixed anchor. Move away from anchor until you feel tension in band. Allow resistance to pull you into flexed rotation as the arm reaches under and across body. Hold stretch then return to start position.

Thoracic Extension on Foam Roller/Weighted (3 reps/segment)

Keep hips on the floor as you hinge over the foam roller. Reach arms up overhead and try to touch floor arching from upper back. Add a weight in your hand to intensify the stretch.

Please reach out with questions or to schedule your appointment with a physical therapist to address any deficits, pain or inconsistency.

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