Latissimus Dorsi Pain: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

One of the largest muscles in your body is the latissimus muscle. This set of muscles span across the greater part of our back and resemble wings on either side.

Many times you will find people also referring to them as the “Lats Muscles”. The lats muscles play a huge role in the movement mechanisms of the arm, shoulder, back, and chest.

Now, most latissimus dorsi pain is widely related to overuse. Other times, it arises from the sheer misuse of these sets of muscles. It may involve poor sitting practices, poor walking styles, improper sleeping positions, etc… The list gets pretty long.

The most prevalent symptom associated with a lats injury is sharp pains in your shoulder. You’ll feel this pain somewhere behind the joint. A lats muscles injury rarely comes alone. For this reason, you might feel stress or trauma in other areas of your back as a result.

The good news here is that most latissimus muscle injuries are not that serious. Treatment includes resting and carrying out physical back stretches regularly.

Nevertheless, what causes latissimus muscle pain? What are the signs and symptoms of a lats muscles injury? And most importantly, how can you prevent pain from your lats?

Let’s find out all about these below..!

What is a Latissimus Dorsi Muscle?

The latissimus dorsi is one of the largest groups of back muscles. This muscle group covers the broader parts of your back shoulder from one wing to the other. They also extend down to your lower back with a big concentration converging along the spine. This distribution forms what looks like a triangle on your back.

The lats muscles alone handle all the essential movement of your shoulders. You can say that they are the primary engine to your shoulders’ functions.

Maybe unknown to you, you use the power of the lats muscles in your everyday living. This includes when you sit, walk, or even stand, either in your home or office.

In short, the latissimus dorsi handles all of the movements associated with your upper body.

Aside from providing stability to the arm and spine function, it also provides balance for the chest. Of course, not forgetting the reinforcement it gives to the pectoralis (the larger front-body muscles).

Now, the main actions of the lats muscles include shoulder extension (pulling your arms away from your body), internal shoulder rotation, and shoulder adduction (pulling the arms close to your body).

Functions of the Latissimus Dorsi Muscles

We have established that the main role of the lats muscles lies with movement on your upper body. These movements form a central role in your everyday life as a human being. That is why you must ensure that you practice the best habits to enhance strength and vitality.

So, very quickly, let us look at the main functions of the latissimus dorsi muscles. They include:

  • They help to keep the human spine straight.
  • They assist in the extension, movement, and rotation of your shoulder joint.
  • They help perform the bending (arching) of your spine.
  • They assist in bringing down your shoulder girdle.
  • They facilitate bending sideways.
  • They enhance heavy movements like rowing, swinging an ax, and swimming.
  • They help push out air when you cough by contracting against the lungs.

And though the last group of muscles are among the largest, they don’t get classified as among the strongest. What irony… I can imagine.

In fact, you may hear from a physician that you really don’t need these muscles to survive. You’ll get this kind of talk when you’re involved in a gross accident (heavens forbid) and need extensive surgery.

In that case, then your lats muscles may get used to:

  • Cover very large wounds
  • Substitute your lost tissue in the case of a cosmetic or reconstructive surgery

Latissimus Dorsi Pain

It can prove difficult to tell the difference between latissimus dorsi pain and other shoulder pain.

Most of the time, the pain that results from a lats injury will affect your back, shoulder, or lower/upper arm. This pain can get much uglier when you try to reach for things far from your position.

It is also normal to feel the pain get worse when you extend your arm in front or extend it in any way.

Important: If you experience abdominal pain, trouble breathing, or a fever, then you should seek medical attention. These symptoms could be a pointer to a more serious underlying condition.

Signs showing that you have Latissimus Dorsi Pain

It is a difficult task to self-diagnose a latissimus dorsi pain. This is because an untrained person will find hardship telling the difference between the lats from other muscles in your shoulder. Let alone the specific area of injury.

All in all, if you suffer from a latissimus muscle injury, you will show the following signs:

  • Pain in your upper, central, and lower back regions.
  • Pain in your shoulder blade (also referred to as the scapula)
  • Pain in your lower arms
  • The appearance of a palpable mass on the muscles
  • Discoloration of skin around the affected area
  • Pain in the rear of your shoulder
  • General stiffness on your shoulder
  • Sharp, stinging pain inside your arms stringing down to the lengths of your fingers

Also, a good way to tell whether your pain is a result of a lats muscle injury is by:

  • Checking if the pain increases every time you try lifting your arms above your head.
  • Testing to see whether you can lift the arm forward to level your shoulder length.

Causes of a Latissimus Dorsi Pain

There are more acute causes of pain in your latissimus dorsi. But, you should also know that you can get an injury on the lats just from your daily routines. This includes gardening, house cleaning, regular exercise, sitting, and other things.

What’s more, injury to a latissimus dorsi muscle is much rarer than with the rotator cuff muscles. (The rotator cuff muscles are a set of 4 muscles that promote stability to your shoulders)

Nevertheless, there are still several other factors that can result in pain in your lats. A few of them include:

1. Tendon Tear

This happens when a traumatic force gets exerted on the latissimus dorsi muscles. This kind of injury is likely to happen to you if you are a sportsperson.

It can bring injury and eventual pain in your latissimus dorsi muscles. Thus, you are more susceptible to a lats muscle injury if you participate in:

  • Baseball
  • Softball
  • Discus throw
  • Javelin throw
  • Bull riding

It is also a risk linked to people who take part in intensive workout routines. Say, when you lift a weight that packs more than your latissimus muscles can support. This misuse can result in a tear in your lats and can cause severe pain in the process.

The tear may happen anywhere on the length of your muscle. But the most common case occurs where the tendons link with your shoulder’s bone.

When a tendon tears, you will instantly feel like your shoulder wants to pop. Also, there will be a lot of swelling and pain pulling in in the coming days.

Other times, the pain from a tendon tear might register as dull when you are at rest. It will only get worse if you attempt to use the injured arm.

You may also feel the pain seething through from your neck cutting through to your shoulder. It may, again, travel down to your lower back region and cause a mild stiffness in the process.

Note: All muscle or tendon tears will require an MRI or ultrasound to get an accurate diagnosis.

2. Osteoarthritis

This is a condition whereby your middle and upper back get affected by arthritis. It damages your thoracic spine and can generate pain that flows into your latissimus muscles.

Osteoarthritis degenerates the cartilage found between your spinal joints. The disease causes the cartilage to break down over time. This damage leads to swelling, pain, and a limited motion range as a result.

Now, most of the time, Osteoarthritis comes as one gets old. Although, some diagnoses are also made from existing previous injuries.

3. Rotator Cuff Injuries

The 4 rotator cuffs play a vital role in stabilizing your shoulders. They include the teres minor, subscapularis, infraspinatus, and supraspinatus.

Any injury to these muscles can cause pain which may spread onto your lats.

The common form of injury associated with rotator cuff muscles the wear and tear. If it exacerbates, you will develop a sharp pain registering at the back of your shoulder.

Pain from a rotator cuff injury can also manifest in front of your body and at your sides.

The good news is that treating most rotator cuff injuries only requires stretches and pain relievers.

4. Muscle Strain (Tendonitis)

Muscle strain, most of the time, happens when you overuse the latissimus dorsi muscles.

Overuse means performing the extensions, internal rotations, and adductions of your shoulder more than frequently.

If this is the case, then you might suffer an injury from overuse. This can result in a huge deal of pain in the end.

Muscle strain happens when you are fiercely engaged in activities such as:

  • Rowing
  • Swimming
  • Gymnastics
  • Golf
  • Shoveling snow
  • Chopping wood
  • Regularly picking heavy stuff from the ground

The best way to overcome tendonitis is by first seeing a physician. A good physiotherapist will help you determine which activity is the root of your suffering.

To prevent it, the number one rule is that you must ease yourself into intense workouts. You must learn to do warm-ups before going full throttle with your exercise.

Also, tone the routine down a notch if you start experiencing pain after an exercise.

5. Quadrilateral Space Syndrome

This condition occurs as a result of nerves constricting at the back of your shoulder. In special times, its effect can cross into the latissimus muscles and cause quite a nagging pain.

As seen in Muscle Strain, the Quadrilateral Space Syndrome mostly affects sporty people. It’s also common to see it getting diagnosed on physically active people.

How to Treat a Latissimus Dorsi Pain

The seriousness of treatment required depends on the severity of your injury.

Simply put, if you by any chance find yourself before a doctor, a quick MRI or ultrasound scan may get done. This will help to decide the mode of treatment to help improve your muscle function.

Now, the two most common prescriptions involve physical therapy and rest.

In resting, the RICE approach is pretty popular. It stands for:

  • R – Rest your injured shoulder and go slow on your physical activities
  • I – Ice your shoulder with a pack of ice
  • C – Compress the affected shoulder using an elastic bandage
  • E – Elevate your injured shoulder using pillows to support your back and also sitting upright

Other alternatives include:

  • Taking anti-inflammatory medicine (nonsteroidal)
  • Use of acupuncture
  • Cryotherapy

Note: If the situation is beyond mild treatment, then you may need surgery to correct the problem.

Ways to Strengthen and Stretch your Lats Muscles

Some exercises can help you alleviate pain and strengthen your lats. However, you should check in with your doctor to confirm whether it’s safe before embarking on any.

They include:

A. Pelvic Lift

To do this routine:

  • Lay on your back flat with your arms pulled at your sides.
  • Bend your legs and make your heels touch your bums.
  • Now, lift your pelvis upwards into the air.
  • Afterward, let it slowly back towards the floor, maintaining your feet and hands in position.
  • Repeat as desired or as advised by a professional trainer or physiotherapist.

B. Foam Rolling

To perform this:

  • Maintain a neutral spine by lying flat on the right side using a foam roller beneath your lat.
  • Sustain straightness in the right leg and bend the left knee.
  • Moving slowly, roll from your underarm down to the lower back.
  • Ensure you keep rolling sideways.
  • Do this for around a minute and repeat the same on your left side.

C. Wall Press

To do this:

  • Stand facing a wall with a 2-feet distance in between.
  • Bend forward using your hips as a hinge.
  • Place your palms against the wall right about your hip’s height.
  • Hold the position up to a minute if you can.

D. Back Bow

To perform the routine:

  • Atop a yoga mat, lay face-down.
  • Extend your arms and legs from your body, with your arms thrown in front of your head.
  • Use your back muscles to raise your shoulders, arms, and legs from the ground.
  • Hold this arch position for about 10 seconds and lower your body down to the ground again.
  • Repeat as necessary.

You can find out more about stretching and strengthening exercises here.

Preventing pain on your Latissimus Dorsi

According to Healthline, you can prevent latissimus dorsi pain by observing a few easy measures. These apply to you even more if you’re an athlete or carry out regular exercise.

They include:

  • Drink lots of water before and after you exercise throughout the day.
  • Place a heating pad on the affected area for a while before you start working out.
  • Avoid slouching and practice good sitting postures at home or work.
  • Get occasional massages to loosen any signs of tightness in your shoulder and back muscles.
  • Do warm-ups and stretches right before you dive into your exercise or sport.
  • Perform cool-downs after your exercises.
  • Avoid overusing your lats muscles.


In a nutshell, there is no cause for panic if you get diagnosed with latissimus dorsi pain.

Just ensure that you have plenty of rest and follow any programs prescribed by your doctor. The muscles will recover over time and you can get back to leading a normal life once more.

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