By: Dr. David Tiberio, Gray Institute

The thoracic spine is the spinal region that has the most vertebrae, and therefore the most joints. The thoracic spine has a lot of motion in each of the three planes. The motion in three planes can be combined in a variety of ways to contribute to the functional success of purposeful movements of the arms, legs, and head. The motions in the frontal and transverse planes have been described as “linked” or coupled together, but all combinations including the sagittal plane are needed.

Anatomy separates the thoracic spine from the cervical spine above and the lumbar spine below. However during global functional movements, the spine becomes a single unit linked to all four extremities. The importance of the thoracic spine becomes evident when we recognize even a few of the “truths” of Chain Reaction movements:

  • Any appreciable movement of the head (driven by the eyes) in any of the six directions will involve the upper thoracic region
  • All shoulder motions require proper scapula-humeral coordination that depends on the thoracic spine and rib cage
  • Motion of the lumbar spine driven by the legs will involve the lower thoracic spine, especially in the transverse plane

Once movement specialists recognize the functional importance of the thoracic spine, it does not take long to appreciate that thoracic spine dysfunction will alter the biomechanics of many regions. The altered biomechanics will often lead to symptoms and tissue damage away from the thoracic spine. Without the knowledge of Chain Reaction biomechanics, too much attention is given to the symptomatic tissue and not enough is directed to the thoracic spine that could be the asymptomatic cause.

If the thoracic spine is critical to so much functional success, then it is essential that all practitioners have functional movement “tools” to assess this region while it is integrated with the rest of the body. The need to test, treat, and train the thoracic spine was addressed more than 10 years ago when Gary Gray was creating the Functional Video Digest Series. The appreciation of the importance of the thoracic spine was accompanied by the recognition that we did not have a strategy for examining all the possible combinations. Since then, the principles of Applied Functional Science have provided strategies, and these strategies have evolved into the 3D Movement Analysis and Performance System (3DMAPS).

The six primary foundational movements of 3DMAPS will assess thoracic spine flexion, extension, lateral flexion to each side, and rotation to each side. These motions are driven by the arms, head and legs to provide insight into how well the spine works with the rest of the body. After thoracic spine motion is created primarily in a single plane, the arm drivers can be utilized to create any combination of sagittal, frontal, and transverse plane motion. These combinations can be created to simulate normal functional tasks as well as sport specific requirements.

If you want to learn more about the six foundational movements and the many tweaks of the Performance System contained in 3DMAPS certification, as well as content from the Functional Video Digest Series, please visit