Latissimus Dorsi Pain: What Are the Causes and Symptoms, How to Diagnose and Treat

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Latissimus Dorsi PainDid you know there is a muscle in your back that is essential for breathing? The latissimus dorsi muscle aids the flexibility of the rib cage as it expands and compresses. Any damage or injury to this muscle can have a domino effect on the functioning of our body systems. Latissimus dorsi pain can be felt not only in the back but also in the shoulder and upper arm areas. Learn the roles of this muscle, the causes of pain, and treatments including latissimus dorsi pain exercises.

What Does Latissimus Dorsi Mean?

The large, flat latissimus dorsi muscle is located in the middle of the back, stretching vertically from the shoulder blade to the lower back. In fact, the muscle’s name means “broadest muscle of the back.” As such, the latissimus dorsi muscle allows the shoulder and arm to perform movements such as extension, adduction, and rotation. It also assists in the flexibility of the spine.

What Causes Latissimus Dorsi Pain?

Due to the scope of latissimus dorsi function, the presence of pain can be attributed to injuries from sports, strenuous exercise, and even common tasks of shoveling. This muscle can be easily damaged as it is in constant motion with most of the movements we make throughout the day.

Some latissimus dorsi pain causes are linked to movements of throwing or pulling. This can happen with activities such as pitching a ball in baseball, weight lifting, gymnastics, and the extreme sport of rock climbing.

Activities that call for repeated use of the back and shoulder blades can also be linked to this muscle pain. Examples include the upward swinging of a bat in baseball or of a racket in tennis, arm strokes with swimming, or the chore of chopping wood.

Common exercises can also damage the latissimus dorsi muscle like the movement of the arms, shoulders, and back with push-ups. Simply reaching overhead during stretching exercises can also result in pain if not done correctly.

Pain stemming from this muscle is also associated with neck and shoulder pain as well as shoulder joint tendonitis.

Latissimus Dorsi Pain Symptoms

Sharp, stabbing pain and dull aches can usually be felt with any little movement of the back and arms. You may have damaged or injured the latissimus dorsi muscle if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Dull ache in back, arms, or hands when raising or reaching with arms
  • Chest pain
  • Pain in the shoulder blade region
  • Bruises
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hip pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Fever

These symptoms can help determine the cause of the injury or damage as most patients do not recall a major incident with the pain.

How to Diagnose Latissimus Dorsi Pain

A discussion of the symptoms alone does not signal a diagnosis as the pain could indicate problems with regions other than the latissimus dorsi. Often, multiple tests and procedures are performed to pinpoint the extent of damage to the muscle. In order to differentiate between latissimus dorsi muscle pain and pain associated with related conditions, doctors may test for:

1. Bicipital Tendonitis

Pain can stem from the inflammation of tendons of the biceps region. Over time, the tendons can become worn from repetitive action of reaching overhead.

2. C7 Radiculopathy

Several conditions directly affecting the nerve of the C1-C7 region of the spine can present pain in the neck or cervical spine area.

3. Suprascapular Nerve Entrapment

This rare condition is linked to severe shoulder pain usually experienced by athletes in sports with overhead physical activity.

How to Treat Latissimus Dorsi Pain

Exercises for latissimus dorsi pain are a large part of the treatment program. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends using the RICE treatment to help with symptoms during the long road to recovery.

Rest: Resting the muscle promotes healing and development of new muscle tissue.

Ice: An ice pack helps to alleviate pain and reduce swelling.

Compression: Compression combats inflammation of tissue.

Elevation: Elevating the affected areas will promote blood flow to the heart by reducing swelling.

The treatment program includes a series of strengthening exercise that should be done once inflammation and swelling dissipate and pain subsides. The following are samples of a latissimus dorsi workout to help with the pain.

1. Self-Massage

Use your fingers to gently massage the tender points of the muscle. You can also use tennis balls on the back as you lean against the wall and slide your body up and down and from side to side. A foam roller can work as well.

2. Stretching

Performing a latissimus dorsi stretch may speed up the healing time while targeting the pain. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and arms stretched above the head. Lean to one side, holding the position for five seconds before repeating on other side.

3. Acupuncture

Under the hands of a trained acupuncturist, the use of this therapy may help to alleviate pain and soreness.

4. Corrective Measures

As the muscle heals, you should take certain safety measures when doing latissimus dorsi exercises and moving about during daily activities. Avoid pulling or pushing a large amount of weight, use a stool to reach items at high levels, and place a pillow under the armpit and between chest and elbow while at rest.

Precautions for Latissimus Dorsi Pain

We have learned that damage or injury to the latissimus dorsi muscle can happen swiftly, with most movements. There are key steps to help prevent this form of pain.

1. Posture

Maintain proper posture when sitting, standing, and walking. The pain experienced with an injury can be caused by spasms when hunched over or slouching.

2. Hydration

By drinking plenty of water throughout the day you can maintain flexibility of the muscle for proper movement. As the muscle can easily become dehydrated with exercise, it is important to drink water before and after.

3. Stretching

Regular stretching of the latissimus dorsi muscle along with occasional massages can help prevent trouble with spasms.

4. Heat

For times when the muscle feels tight, use a heated pad or hot water bottle to ease tension.

The latissimus dorsi is one of the largest muscles in our body and is responsible for the movement of our upper arms, shoulders, and even our breathing. Damage to the muscle can cause aches and sharp pain with the tiniest movement. The regular actions of pulling, pushing, and throwing can lead to such damage. Treatment includes exercises for pain management and healing. You may not be able to prevent injury to the latissimus dorsi muscle, but there are precautions to take to try to alleviate the pain of this condition.


Sources:
“Latissimus Dorsi,” Healthline; http://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/latissimus-dorsi-muscle, last accessed April 7, 2017.
“Latissimus Dorsi Pain: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Prevention,” ePain Assist; https://www.epainassist.com/back-pain/mid-back-pain/latissimus-dorsi-pain, last accessed April 7, 2017.
Welch, C., “Latissimus Dorsi Sprains,” Live Strong, January 28, 2014; http://www.livestrong.com/article/504906-latissimus-dorsi-sprains/, last accessed April 7, 2017.

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