What is the latissimus dorsi?

The latissimus dorsi is one of the largest muscles in your back. It’s sometimes referred to as your lats and is known for its large, flat “V” shape. It spans the width of your back and helps control the movement of your shoulders.

When your latissimus dorsi is injured, you might feel pain in your low back, mid-to-upper back, along the base of your scapula, or in the back of the shoulder. You may even feel pain along the inside of the arm, all the way down to your fingers.

What does latissimus dorsi pain feel like?

Latissimus dorsi pain can be hard to differentiate from other types of back or shoulder pain. You’ll usually feel it in your shoulder, back, or upper or lower arm. The pain will worsen when you reach forward or extend your arms.

Contact your doctor if you have trouble breathing, a fever, or abdominal pain. Combined with latissimus dorsi pain, these may be symptoms of a more serious injury or condition.

What causes latissimus dorsi pain?

The latissimus dorsi muscle is used the most during exercises that involve pulling and throwing. Pain is usually caused by overuse, using poor technique, or not warming up before exercising. Activities that can cause latissimus dorsi pain include:

  • gymnastics
  • baseball
  • tennis
  • rowing
  • swimming
  • shoveling snow
  • chopping wood
  • chin-ups and pullups
  • reaching forward or overhead repeatedly

You might also feel pain in your latissimus dorsi if you have poor posture or tend to slouch.

In rare cases, your latissimus dorsi can tear. This usually only happens to professional athletes, such as water skiers, golfers, baseball pitchers, rock climbers, track athletes, volleyball players, and gymnasts. But a serious injury can cause it as well.

How is this pain treated?

Treating for latissimus dorsi pain usually involves rest and physical therapy. While you rest, your doctor may recommend something called the RICE protocol:

R: resting your back and shoulders from, and cutting back on, physical activities

I: icing the painful area with an ice pack or cold compress

C: using compression by applying an elastic bandage

E: elevating the area by sitting upright or placing pillows behind your upper back or shoulder

You can also take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), to help with the pain. If you have severe pain, your doctor may prescribe something stronger. Alternative treatments, such as cryotherapy or acupuncture, may also help.

If the pain goes away after a period of rest, you can slowly return to your regular activity level. Just make sure you do so gradually to avoid another injury.

If you continue to feel pain around your latissimus dorsi, your doctor may suggest surgery. They’ll likely use an MRI scan to get a better view of your injury to figure out the best approach.

Can exercises help alleviate this pain?

There are several home exercises you can do to loosen up a tight latissimus dorsi or build strength.

If your latissimus dorsi feels tight, try these exercises to loosen it:

You can also strengthen your latissimus dorsi by following these exercises:

You might also want to try certain yoga stretches that could help ease your back pain.

Are there ways to prevent latissimus dorsi pain?

You can avoid latissimus dorsi pain by taking a few preventive steps, especially if you regularly exercise or play sports:

  • Maintain good posture and avoid slouching.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially before and after exercising.
  • Get an occasional massage to loosen any tightness in your back and shoulders.
  • Make sure you properly stretch and warm up before exercising or playing sports.
  • Apply a heating pad before working out.
  • Do cool-down exercises after working out.

Outlook for latissimus dorsi pain

The latissimus is one your largest muscles, so it can cause a lot of pain when it’s injured. However, most latissimus dorsi pain goes away on its own with rest and home exercises. If your pain is severe or doesn’t go away, talk to your doctor about other treatment options.