Latissimus Dorsi Pain: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Prevention

A majority of the population has experienced muscle pain at some point in their life or the other. Among these, people complaining of pain in the back surpass people suffering from pain in other regions by a considerable extent. Pain in the Latissimus Dorsi is one such condition where pain is felt in the spinal area, shoulder and upper arm of the body. While a majority of people suffering from latissimus dorsi pain can get relief by following a corrected lifestyle pattern, rest and certain exercises, some of the cases may require special care and attention.

Latissimus Dorsi Pain

Function of Latissimus Dorsi Muscle

Derived from the Latin term, ‘latissimus’ meaning broadest and ‘dorsum’ meaning back, Latissimus Dorsi basically refers to the broadest muscle present in the back of our body. Commonly referred to as ‘lats’ among bodybuilders, this muscle is the flat, larger, dorso-lateral muscle on the torso, to the rear end of the arm and partly concealed by the trapezius on its central dorsal area. These muscles are connected to a considerable portion of the lower spine by a coat of tissue known as thoracolumbar fascia. The muscle rises up to meet the shoulder area and is secured to an indentation on the humerus, commonly known as the upper arm bone.

Under idle circumstances, the Latissimus Dorsi performs the following functions-

  • Adduction, extension, horizontal adduction or traverse extension, internal rotation of the shoulder joint and flexing from a protracted position.
  • Latissimus Dorsi muscles also play a harmonious role in the protraction and oblique flexion of the lumbar spine.
  • These muscles are also termed as “accessory breathing muscles” as they help in the expansion and compression of the rib cage and aid in breathing to a certain extent.

Symptoms of Latissimus Dorsi Pain

Pain in the Latissimus Dorsi muscle is generally characterized by minor changes in the muscle activity or alteration in the position. The symptoms by which one can recognize latissimus dorsi pain include –

  • Ache is felt in raising the arms overhead and reaching forward with the same. Often this pain travels down the arm and into the hands up to the fourth and fifth fingers.
  • Pain is also felt in the frontal areas, under and around the shoulder blades.
  • Since these muscles aid in breathing to a certain extent, pain in the Latissimus Dorsi muscle may also lead to a difficulty in breathing.
  • The patient is also likely to feel pain in the lower abdominal section of the body and along the upper region of the ilium or the hip bone.
  • The patient may also encounter swelling, bruising and fever, spasms and loss of muscle control in extreme cases.

Though it may be difficult to identify a definite event that leads to Latissimus Dorsi pain, the above symptoms can definitely aid patients in recognizing the affliction and get treated for the same.

Causes of Latissimus Dorsi Pain

The Latissimus Dorsi muscles are in a state of constant activity as majority of the activities performed by the body make use of these muscles. Pain may develop in the muscle due to the enumerated causative factors-

  • Activities involving heavy throwing or pulling, such as, rock climbing, strength training, gymnastics and the like can cause latissimus dorsi pain.
  • Ball games, such as, pitching or throwing the ball can also cause pain the Latissimus Dorsi muscle.
  • Latissimus dorsi pain may also be triggered by activities that require the repeated movement of the shoulder blades in an upward motion, such as rowing, swing baseball bats, tennis rackets, chopping wood, and swimming, shoveling snow or dirt and the like.
  • Certain exercises such as pushups that require constant pulling up and pushing down with the arms can also contribute as the causative factor in the latissimus dorsi muscle pain.
  • Pain can also be activated by repeatedly reaching forward or overhead.

The Latissimus Dorsi muscle is unlikely to cause trouble even when it is “tight” or has “tender points“. Hence, it might be difficult to comprehend even if there is anything wrong with the muscle and thus a careful identification is required to diagnose the condition.

Diagnosis of Latissimus Dorsi Pain

Physicians use a number of techniques in order to diagnose a patient suffering from pain in the Latissimus Dorsi region, chief among which is the differential diagnosis which includes-

  • C7 Radiculopathy – This includes pain in the cervical spine or the neck region as a result of conditions that irritate the nerve in the C1-C7 region.
  • Suprascapular Nerve Entrapment – Although rare, Suprascapular nerve entrapment has been found to be a common causative factor of shoulder pain among athletes participating in overhead exercises.
  • Bicipital Tendonitis – This involves inflammation of the tendon around the biceps and is generally caused by the degeneration of the tendons in the biceps due to activities requiring overhead motion.

Treatment of Latissimus Dorsi Pain

Treatment of Latissimus Dorsi Pain

Treatment of Latissimus Dorsi pain is quite a simple process but is subject to a long duration. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons have endorsed the standard healing protocol abbreviated as RICE, that is, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation to bring about a significant change in the condition of the patient. Allowing the affected muscles to relax and rest leads to faster healing and growth of new tissues while icing is likely to reduce the swelling and act as a natural pain relief. Compressing the affected area also helps with inflammation while elevation catalyzes the healing procedure by reducing swelling and returning the blood to the heart.

The healing protocol of RICE is generally accompanied by certain strengthening exercises which act as catalysts to the healing process and enable patients to get back to normal activities.

  • Self-Massage Exercises for Latissimus Dorsi Pain: Patients can opt for a massage at home by looking for the tender points and gently massaging them with the help of the fingers or a tennis ball. Self-massage can also be given by using a foam roller under the afflicted muscle and slowly moving the body in a backward and forward motion.
  • Relieving Latissimus Dorsi Pain with Stretching Exercises: Stretching exercises that activate the Latissimus Dorsi muscles can also aid in relieving pain and enhance the healing process. People opting for these exercise need to stretch their hands above their head and lean to a side and hold on to this position for about five seconds before releasing and repeating the other side.
  • Force Up and Pull Down Exercises for Latissimus Dorsi Pain: These two exercises are also considered to be quite effective in getting rid of this muscle pain. One needs to avoid swinging the body while doing the force up exercise and round off the whole thing in a more controlled fashion. Pull downs on the other hand, involve the pulling down of the weights instead of moving the body though swinging the body should be avoided here as well.
  • Reducing Latissimus Dorsi Pain with Acupuncture: This can also be considered as an alternative pain relieving measure. Muscle knots can also be treated by Myofascial trigger point therapy, wherein, effective treatment of muscle knots are targeted by direct application of pressure on the knots while putting the surrounding muscles into motion.
  • Other Measures to Reduce Latissimus Dorsi Pain: Certain corrective measures also need to be followed while undergoing treatment-
    • Overloading the muscles should be avoided by all means.
    • The arms should be kept in a vertical position with the position of the elbow while pulling down.
    • Use of a stool or something of the nature is also highly recommended while reaching for things kept overhead.
    • A pillow needs to be placed under the armpit, in between the chest and the elbow in order to prevent the shortening of the muscles over a prolonged period of time.

Apart from the enumerated methods, potassium and calcium deficiency can also lead to Latissimus Dorsi pain. Hence, multi-vitamin tablets along with oral anti-inflammatory drugs provided by doctors can also treat the afflicted area effectively.

Precautions to Prevent Latissimus Dorsi Pain

Pain in the Latissimus Dorsi region can be acquired at any point of time, such as, during lifting children, at the gym, while rowing, swimming, playing baseball and the like. However, one could go for certain preventive measures in order to avoid the pain altogether.

  • It is important to practice good posture in order to avoid pain in the Latissimus Dorsi muscle. People need to avoid hunching over, slouching while in standing position and other such postures that can lead to spasms and/or agonizing knots.
  • As with many other afflictions, drinking water also helps in avoiding pain in these muscles. ‘Lats’ muscles tend to get dehydrated, especially after workout. Drinking water before and after workout sessions rehydrates muscles and helps in avoiding pain.
  • Occasional massages help loosen the knots in the Latissimus Dorsi region. This should be ideally accompanied by stretching exercise in order to make this preventive measure effective.
  • Application of warm heating pads before workout sessions helps in loosening the muscles, thereby, aiding in the prevention of Latissimus Dorsi pain.

The enumerated preventive measures along with a balanced healthy diet and exercise can bring about a significant change in avoiding and even curing pain in the Latissimus Dorsi muscle.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:November 3, 2018

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