Pain in the middle back, shoulders or upper arms of the body is often the result of Latissimus dorsi pain. Your Latissimus dorsi muscle (or sometimes called “lat”) is the largest muscle in your back and is associated with arm movement and upper body strength. The most common cause of Latissimus dorsi pain and muscle spasms is due to an injury sustained while playing sports or engaging in strenuous physical activity. However, muscle pain may also radiate from your back to your shoulders and neck.
Pain in the Latissimus dorsi may affect your breathing because the Latissimus dorsi muscles assist in moving your ribs up and down. Sometimes, just jerking your arm the wrong way is enough to pull or strain the lat muscle and cause sharp pain in your back.
Usually, strengthening the Latissimus dorsi muscle is one of the best ways to prevent pain in your middle or upper back. However, if you have torn, stretched, or ripped part of the Latissimus dorsi, home treatments like warm and cold packs can help to get rid of the pain. Massage may help to relieve pain in your back if you suffer from chronic Latissimus dorsi pain.
In this article, you will learn how to treat and prevent Latissimus dorsi pain. You will also find out how to prevent back pain by using exercises to strengthen the “lat” muscles in your back.
What is Latissimus dorsi Muscle?
The Latissimus dorsi is a triangular-shaped muscle and is the largest and most powerful muscle in your back. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, your “lats” are connected to your spine, hip bone, and upper arm bone (humerus) in your shoulder blade.1
You use your Latissimus dorsi muscles as you go about your daily activities. For example, when you push on the arms of a chair to stand up, you engage your Latissimus dorsi muscles to give yourself leverage and stability.
The journal Clinical Biomechanics stated that the Latissimus dorsi is an important muscle for movement of the arms and lifting the whole upper body. Therefore, if you work out at the gym and do push-ups, plank exercises, lift weights, or chest presses, your Latissimus dorsi muscles are constantly in use.2
Your Latissimus dorsi muscle is also connected to your respiratory muscles and assists in breathing. For example, the Journal of Voice reported that Latissimus dorsi helps the chest expand and contract as you breathe.3 Other studies into the effect of breathing on the Latissimus dorsi muscle found that strenuous breathing while exercising causes muscle fatigue of the Latissimus dorsi.4
Symptoms of Latissimus dorsi Pain
Pain in the Latissimus dorsi can cause pain in the back and also in the surrounding limbs and tissues. Overuse or too much stretching can also cause stiffness and discomfort in your upper arms, shoulders, and lower back.
The Journal of Orthopedics says that one cause of chronic shoulder pain is tightness in the Latissimus dorsi. This could result in pain in your upper arm and possible tingling in your hands and arms. Damaged muscles in your back could also affect the tendons in your back and cause tendinitis in the middle or lower back and can be one of the reasons you have chronic lower back pain.5
A tear of the Latissimus dorsi muscle will cause sudden, severe pain in the affected part of your back. The excruciating Latissimus dorsi pain could also affect movement of your arms and lower back. Usually, the pain in the Latissimus dorsi and surrounding tissue is managed by using various techniques to compress the injury and using warm or cold packs to speed up the healing time. Depending on the severity of the muscle pain, anti-inflammatories and treatments to relieve swelling are often used.
Causes of Latissimus Dorsi Pain
According to the journal Clinics and Practice, Latissimus dorsi muscle tears are commonly caused by injury to sports people. Pain and discomfort in the Latissimus dorsi muscle affect golfers, skiers, baseball players, tennis players, basketball players, and gymnasts.6
The kind of activities that can cause Latissimus dorsi pain are the following:
- Any sports that require hitting a ball with a bat or club can strain or stretch your “lats.”
- Latissimus dorsi muscle tears resulting in pain are often suffered by gymnasts, weight lifters, and rock climbers.
- Activities that involve straining at the shoulder blade like swimming, chopping wood, and canoeing can affect the large back muscles.
- Workers who frequently have their hands above their head can get sore and stiff shoulders caused by frequent Latissimus dorsi muscle straining.
Although serious Latissimus dorsi injuries resulting in muscle tears are not very common, they do happen among certain groups of people.
According to radiologist Dr. Pamela Burdett who specializes in diagnosing Latissimus dorsi pain by the use of MRI scans, traumatic injuries or serious strains are the main factors in Latissimus dorsi injuries. The injury causing pain from the Latissimus dorsi could be caused by a ripped or stretched tendon or damage to the actual muscle tissue.7
Incorrect posture when exercising
Incorrect posture when exercising is another reason for causing strain on your Latissimus dorsi muscle resulting in recurring back pain and shoulder pain. Sitting or standing in the wrong position while lifting weights, exercising, or hitting a ball with a racket can pull the muscles attached to your lower spine and shoulder.
The Journal of Physical Therapy Science reported that incorrect foot placement while exercising can affect the Latissimus dorsi. Researchers found that frequent exercising with poor posture can result in low back pain and damaged Latissimus dorsi muscles.8
How to Treat Latissimus Dorsi Pain
Depending on the severity of damage to your Latissimus dorsi muscles and the type of pain you have, treating the pain may take some time and plenty of rest. There are, however, some practical ways that you can help relieve the muscle pain quicker and accelerate the healing process.
R.I.C.E. pain relief method
A tried and tested method to help treat any kind of muscle injury, including getting rid of Latissimus dorsi pain, is to use the R.I.C.E. method. This involves a combination of Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. To help manage and reduce the pain.
The journal Clinics and Practice actually recommends P.R.I.C.E. to help get pain relief from Latissimus dorsi muscle tears. (PRICE is a variation on the RICE method but adds the concept of “Protection” for the injured area).6
This is how to help get relief from Latissimus dorsi muscle pain using the P.R.I.C.E. pain relief method:
- Protect the area from further injury by using a shoulder support to limit arm movement.
- Rest helps the healing process and you should avoid activities that could injure your back muscles further.
- Ice should be used to help reduce swelling and limit pain on the injured area. Place crushed ice in a plastic bag and cover with a towel.
- Compression bandage should be used to prevent inflammation in the injury.
- Elevation of the back is possible by sitting in a recliner or upright chair. This helps to improve blood circulation and promote healing and pain relief.
Massage for Latissimus Dorsi pain relief
A natural way to get pain relief from a Latissimus dorsi muscle strain or injury is to go for a back massage. Massage techniques on your back will help to loosen stiff muscles, improve blood flow to the affected area, and relieve muscle tension.
According to a massage magazine, a professional masseur will massage the lumbar region, your spine, the Latissimus dorsi muscles, and around your affected shoulder blade. This helps to stretch tight muscles and tendons and relaxes contracted muscles to alleviate Latissimus dorsi pain.9
There are many other practical ways that you can do to relieve back pain and they are mentioned in my article on how to relieve muscle and back pain naturally.
Exercises for Latissimus Dorsi Muscle
Your healthcare provider may recommend specific exercises to strengthen the Latissimus dorsi muscle to help remove pain.
The Kraus Back & Neck Institute recommends various exercises to strengthen your back and eliminate lower back pain.10 Here are a few of their easy “lat” exercises that you can do at home for low back pain relief:
Pelvic tilt. Lay on your back with your hands by your side and your legs bent. Raise your buttocks and pelvic area into the air while keeping your feet and hands in position. Repeat 10 times.
Back bow (Superman). Lay on your front with your arms stretched out in front of you. Raise your arms and legs upward at the same time as far as you can. Your stomach and pelvic area should stay on the floor. Repeat 5-10 times.
Twists. Sit on a chair and place a light bar on your shoulders behind your head (a broom handle will work). Keeping your back straight and your chest out, slowly twist to the right as far as you can. Then twist around to the left and repeat 10-15 times.
Remember, exercising should never hurt. If you feel a twinge in your back muscles or pain in your lower back or shoulders, you should stop the exercises immediately.
How to Prevent Latissimus Dorsi Pain
Once you have recovered from injury and you no longer have acute Latissimus dorsi pain, it’s important to take some steps to prevent recurring pain. The following advice is also helpful if you suffer from chronic pain in the Latissimus dorsi muscles.
Heat before exercising
To help prevent pain in your lower back or shoulder when exercising, Dr. Blake Boggess on WebMD recommends applying a heat pack to your muscles before exercising. This will help to loosen the muscles and tendons and prevent straining the Latissimus dorsi.11
You can prevent pain in your lower back by using the correct posture when sitting for long periods or lifting heavy objects.
In my article on the best exercises to improve your posture, you can get practical advice on how to avoid back pain. For example, here are a few ideas to help keep a good posture and prevent back problems giving you pain:
- Always sit up straight on a chair with your chin and head straight back.
- Keep you your shoulder back and your chest out while sitting or walking.
- Do small stretching exercises regularly throughout the day to keep your shoulders, neck, and back tension-free.
Strengthen core muscles
Your “lats” are part of your core muscles, and the stronger your core is, the less likelihood there is that you will suffer from back pain and Latissimus dorsi injuries.
To strengthen your “lats” using planks, this is what you should do:
- Lay down and rest your upper body on your elbows and your lower body on your tiptoes.
- Make sure that your shoulders are directly above your elbows.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles and hold the position for as long as you can.
- Rest for 20 seconds, then repeat.
- Do this 2-3 times every day.
Very soon, you should feel that you can hold the plank position for longer and in time your back pain should ease up and go away completely.
Stretching exercises and massage to prevent lat pain
Very often injury to the “lats” occurs when you strain or stretch the muscle too much. You can avoid sharp pains from this type of injury by having occasional massages and doing stretching exercises 2-3 times a week.
You can also try a massage at home. For example, please read my article on how to use a tennis ball to relieve back pain to find out how to use an easy technique at home to massage yourself. Also, you could try exercising with a foam roller to get rid of back pain.
Read my other related articles:
- Britannica. Latissimus dorsi.
- Clin Biomech. 1998 Sep;13(6):377-385.
- J Voice. 2012 May;26(3):e95-e105.
- J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Aug;28(8):2262-9.
- J Orthop. 2013 Mar; 10(1): 25–28.
- Clin Pract. 2013 Aug 2; 3(2): e15.
- RadSource. Acute musculotendinous
- J Phys Ther Sci. 2013 Sep; 25(9): 1155–1156.
- MassageMag. The Latissimus dorsi muscle.
- WebMD. How to relieve pain from Latissimus dorsi strain.