The latissimus dorsi is a large, flat muscle covering the width of the middle and lower back. It connects the bone of the upper arm to the spine and the hip. This muscle is often referred to as the lats.
Pain in the latissimus dorsi is often caused by overuse, or it may be a result of poor technique in sports or similar activities.
Fortunately, several exercises can help to prevent or relieve this pain.
It may be difficult to tell whether the pain is located in the latissimus dorsi or other muscles in the shoulders or back.
When the latissimus dorsi is injured, a person may feel pain in several places, including:
- the lower, middle, and upper back
- the back of the shoulders
- the base of the scapula, commonly known as the shoulder blade
- the inside of the arms, extending down to the fingers
- the lower arms
In some cases, the pain will occur without warning, and it can be felt in surrounding muscles. This pain often worsens when the person extends their hands to the front, raises their hands above their head, or throws an object.
Damage to the latissimus dorsi can cause other symptoms. They may include:
- tingling in the lower arms
- difficulty breathing
- tendonitis in the middle and lower back
Consult a doctor when the source of back pain cannot be identified, or if it is accompanied by:
- trouble breathing
- abdominal pain
These could be symptoms of a more severe condition.
The latissimus dorsi is used in everyday activities, including:
- expanding the chest for breathing
- pushing against armrests of a chair to stand
It is also used during sports or workouts that feature:
- weightlifting with the upper body
- performing bench-presses
Below are the most common causes of pain:
- overuse of the muscle
- poor technique
- exercising without warming up
A person may be at greater risk of injury if they:
- have poor posture
- continually reach overhead
- chop wood
- frequently shovel
- play baseball
- play tennis
- do exercises such as pull-ups or lat pulldowns
It is possible to tear the latissimus dorsi, and athletes are at particular risk. Some athletes most likely to injure this muscle include:
- water skiers
Certain exercises can alleviate pain associated with the latissimus dorsi and strengthen the muscle to prevent further injury.
It is essential that a person consult an expert, such as a doctor or personal trainer, to ensure that the exercises are right for them and that they are using correct form.
The following two exercises can reduce latissimus dorsi pain. A doctor can recommend how often a person should perform these exercises. Never continue an exercise that is painful or too uncomfortable:
This pose is often referred to as "the Superman," because it resembles how he flies.
To perform back bow:
- Lay facedown on a yoga mat.
- Extend straightened legs and arms away from the body, so that the arms are in front of the head.
- Use the back to raise the shoulders and extended limbs toward the ceiling.
- Hold the position for 10 seconds before lowering.
Pelvic raise or lift
- To perform this exercise, a person should:
- Lay flat on the back with the arms at the sides.
- Bend the legs so that the heels are closer to the buttocks.
- Lift the pelvis toward the ceiling.
- Slowly lower it to the floor, keeping the hands and feet in place.
A person can make certain lifestyle changes to prevent latissimus dorsi pain. These include:
- using proper form during sports and exercise
- avoiding overuse of the muscle
- applying a heating pad to the area before exercising
- warming up and cooling down before and after a workout
- stretching gently after warming up and before cooling down
- staying hydrated
- getting occasional massages
The latissimus dorsi is one of the largest muscles in the back. It can be injured with overuse, or when a person does not use correct form while exercising. In most cases, latissimus dorsi pain will go away with rest, stretching, and the exercises described above.
Consult a doctor before trying a new exercise, to ensure that it is the right choice and to learn correct form.