Latissimus dorsi pain is a discomfort in one of the largest muscles in the back and is often referred to as lat muscle strain. Our lats have a large V shape and span the width of the back, helping to control movement of the shoulders. So, what causes latissimus dorsi muscle pain and how do you treat it? Read on to find out.
The latissimus dorsi muscle is connected to your spine, hipbone, and upper arm bone. You use this muscle for a lot of daily activities. When you get up from sitting and push the arms of a chair to stand up, you are using latissimus dorsi muscles. If you go to the gym and lift weights or do chest presses, you are using also using them.
It is important to note that latissimus dorsi muscles are connected to your respiratory muscles, so they assist in breathing. The lats help the chest expand and contract.
What causes latissimus dorsi pain?
Since the latissimus dorsi muscles are in constant use, it is easy to see how someone might suffer from latissimus dorsi back pain. There are countless ways someone can injure this area of the body, but let’s look at some of the common latissimus dorsi pain causes.
- Activities involving throwing, pulling, or climbing, such as pitching and rock climbing
- Gym activities including strength training, push-ups, and gymnastics
- Repeated movements like swinging a bat or tennis racket, rowing, chopping wood, or shoveling snow or dirt
- Reaching repeatedly overhead
- Poor posture
Latissimus dorsi pain is most often caused by overuse, poor exercise technique, or not warming up before exercising. In some cases, the latissimus dorsi can tear. Professional athletes including water skiers, golfers, baseball pitchers, track athletes, and gymnasts are known to tear their latissmus dorsi muscles often.
What are the symptoms of latissimus dorsi pain?
Pain in the latissimus dorsi can be felt in the shoulder, upper or lower back, or upper or lower arm. It is rather easy to mistake it for some other type of injury. The muscle pain will typically worsen when you reach forward or extend your arms.
Latissimus dorsi pain symptoms are different in each case due to the degree of muscle strain or damage. The following list does cover the typical latissimus dorsi muscle pain symptoms:
- Upper or lower back pain
- Pain in surrounding limbs and tissue
- Stiffness and discomfort in the upper arms and shoulders
- Rhomboid muscle pain
- Pain in the upper arm and possible tingling in hands and arms
- Tendinitis in middle or lower back
- Sudden, severe pain in back if the muscle tears
- Difficulty breathing
If a person injures their latissimus dorsi and has trouble breathing, has a fever, or abdominal pain, this could be a sign of a serious health problem. Medical attention should be sought immediately.
How to diagnose latissimus dorsi pain
There are a few ways to diagnose a person with pain in the latissimus dorsi muscle. The doctor will begin by assessing the symptoms the patient describes but will also rely on the process of elimination. Ruling out other conditions is often the best way to go about a diagnosis.
Here is what a doctor will look for when examining a patient:
- C7 Radiculopathy: Checks for a compressed nerve in the spine that can cause pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the nerve. Most of the time, radiculopathy is found in the lower back and in the neck.
- Suprascapular nerve entrapment: This is shoulder pain that includes symptoms that are a lot like rotator cuff signs.
- Bicipital tendonitis: This includes inflammation of the tendon around the biceps.
Examining a patient with the above in mind is a part of making a differential diagnosis. It’s a process of differentiating between two or more conditions that share similar signs and symptoms. If the doctor rules out all other possible causes, the patient will likely be directed toward latissimus dorsi treatment.
If you think you might have injured this muscle, you should confirm your suspicions before engaging in any latissimus dorsi muscle pain relief. If it isn’t this muscle that is creating the pain, you could make your condition worse by treating it incorrectly.
How to treat latissimus dorsi pain
Latissimus dorsi pain relief can actually be simple; however, in many cases, it takes a long time to fully recuperate. One of the easiest and most effective latissimus dorsi pain treatment methods is RICE. This stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
When you allow muscles to rest, it leads to faster healing. Icing can reduce inflammation and swelling and act as a natural form of pain relief. Compressing the area that is affected can also help with inflammation, and elevation helps to heal by reducing swelling and returning blood to the heart. RICE is commonly followed by specific strengthening exercises.
The following list outlines some of the other potential latissimus dorsi treatment options:
Find the tender points and gently massage them with your fingers or a tennis ball. Some people also use a foam roller under the affected muscle and slowly move their body back and forth over the roller.
You can activate the latissimus dorsi muscles by stretching your hands above your head. Then lean to one side and hold the position for about five seconds. Release and repeat on the opposite side.
This encourages the body to promote natural healing. A professional acupuncture specialist who inserts needles into precise points on the body should do this for you.
Myofascial trigger point therapy
Muscle knots are targeted by applying direct pressure on the knots while putting the surrounding muscles in motion.
Avoid overloading the muscles during recovery. Use a stool to retrieve items instead of reaching high above your head and place a pillow under the armpit, in between the chest and elbow, to prevent shortening of muscles.
These can be helpful since potassium and calcium deficiency has been known to lead to latissimus dorsi pain.
Force up and pull down exercises
When doing force up exercises, avoid swinging the body and conduct the exercises in a controlled way. When pulling down on weights, swinging the body should also be avoided. There are specific exercises that your doctor or physical therapist can recommend.
The journal Clinics and Practice promotes P.R.I.C.E as the best approach to help pain associated with a latissimus muscle tear. P.R.I.C.E is the same as R.I.C.E, only adding protection into the mix. What this means is that you protect the area from further injury. For instance, you can use a shoulder support to limit arm movement.
Since tears can be extremely painful and can limit mobility, it is especially important to consult with a qualified medical professional about the best treatment and recovery options.
Exercises for latissimus dorsi pain
Latissimus dorsi pain exercises are meant to help strengthen the muscle and reduce the pain. Again, it is important to seek guidance about what exercises are best given your condition, but here is a sample of some lat exercise that are often recommended.
- Pelvic tilt: Lay on your back with your hand by your side and legs bent. Then raise your buttocks and pelvic area into the air. Keep your feet and hands in position. Repeat about 10 times.
- Back bow: Also referred to as “Superman.” To do this exercise, lay on your front with your arms stretched out in front of you, then raise your arms and legs upward at the same time as far as you can. Your stomach and pelvic area stay on the floor. This can be repeated 5 to 10 times.
- Twists: Sit on a chair and place a light bar behind your head and on your shoulders. Keep your back straight and chest out, then slowly twist to the right as far as you can go before doing the same to the left. Repeat 10–15 times.
When carrying out any of the above exercises, it is important to stop if you experience sudden pain.
How to prevent latissimus dorsi pain
Some people experience a lot of latissimus dorsi pain at night, which can interrupt sleep. Others feel the pain during the day when they are up and moving around more. Either way, it can be frustrating, so you should try to avoid injuring the muscle.
While pain in the latissimus dorsi area can occur by simply lifting a child, playing a favorite sport, or doing a repetitive task, there are still some preventative measures you can take to help avoid the pain.
- Practice good posture: Try not to hunch over or slouch when sitting or standing
- Stay hydrated: Drinking water helps with avoiding pain in the muscles. Latissimus dorsi muscles have a tendency to become dehydrated when people are working out. Drinking water before and after exercise is best.
- Get occasional massages: A massage can loosen knots in muscles and should be followed by stretching to be a really effective preventative measure.
- Use heating pads: A warm heating pad before a workout session helps loosen muscles.
- Do cool-down exercises: Following a workout, it is important to do cool-down exercises.
While the latissimus dorsi can cause an awful lot of pain, in the majority of cases, the pain goes away on its own with some rest and exercise. If the pain is severe or just doesn’t seem to want to go away, talk to your doctor about possible treatment options.
Related: How to treat trapezius muscle pain: Causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and exercises