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The thoracic foam roller mobilization is a great way to get your upper back and shoulders moving properly. But for some people, the full version will cause nerve irritation or other discomforts. This “lite” variation helps reduce or eliminate common discomforts related to the full version.

Could this help you?

The thoracic foam roller mobilization helps relieve tension and stiffness in the upper back. This supported variation is for people who can’t tolerate the full version. Try this variation, if either of the following applies:

You experience pain, numbness or other symptoms when supporting your head with your arms.

You can’t tolerate the full pressure of your upper back on the foam roller due to being extra stiff from a motor vehicle crash or some other event or you are older with thoracic kyphosis.

What you’ll need

A foam roller, two yoga blocks and enough space on the floor to perform the exercise.


Relax muscles surrounding the upper spine and shoulders and restore proper movement in the individual vertebrae in the upper spine while avoiding discomforts associated with the full version.

Exercise overview

The supported thoracic foam roller mobilization uses a combination of pressure on and movement of your upper spine over the foam roller. It starts with positioning the foam roller near the top of your upper back just below your neck. Position one yoga block under your head to support your head and neck, and place the other yoga block under your sacrum (above your glutes and below your belt line).

Spend some time with the foam roller positioned in the joint between each of the vertebrae throughout your upper back; use flexion, extension and slight lateral rotations to coax the joints to relax. You will need to keep adjusting the yoga blocks as you work the foam roller down your thoracic spine.

Frequency and tips

Start with one session a day, but you may find that you can work up to additional sessions per day if you are feeling benefit.

Use gentle movements (no bouncing or forcing).

Try stretching your arms out to your sides to see if you can get a comfortable stretch through your chest.

When you find a particularly stiff or restricted area, spend more time on it (try focusing the in and out of your breath in the restricted area for 4 – 6 breaths while breathing slowly and alternating between flexion, extension and slight lateral movements).

How to stay safe

Limit the mobilizations to your upper back only. Do not roll up to your neck or down into your lower back.

  • You can identify your lower back by holding your hand behind your back (palm facing away) behind your back. With your pinky at your belt line, extend your thumb up along your spine. The area between your beltline and the top of your thumb is your lower back.

Gently reposition the blocks so your head and hips remain supported as you move the roller down your spine.

Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise.

We’re here to help

If you have questions about the supported thoracic foam roller mobilization, we can discuss them at your next appointment. We also have foam rollers and yoga blocks available at the clinic, if you need them.