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  • John Lesko LMT

A Lat of Back Pain.

The latissimus dorsi (lat) is a very large muscle covering a great portion of the back. We often associate this muscle with pullups and contribute weakness in that movement to that muscle. For those who have delved in a little deeper have also attributed shoulder pain to weakness or dysfunction in the lats. However, there are so much more that an angry lat can contribute to.

Most of us are aware that the lat attaches to our upper arm. To be more specific, attaching to little bony bump in our humerus just under our lateral bicep tendon. This is how we can contribute shoulder pain to a tight lat as lat will try to force the arm to rotate in. Now what about the other end? That’s where it gets more interesting is when we look at where else the muscle attaches. The other end of the latissimus dorsi attaches to the bottom 7 thoracic vertebrae and all of our lumbar vertebrae AND to our sacrum. This lower end also connects to our bottom 3 or 4 ribs and the side/top of our hip bone (posterior iliac crest).

If we think about this strictly from a structural and tensional perspective, we can easily start to contribute (or at least add as a helper) a number of issues to a hypertonic latissimus dorsi. This would include respiratory issues, low back pain, mid back pain, lateral hip tilt, a feeling of a shorter leg and lack of thoracic/lumbar spinal rotation. If both sides were to become too tight and/or dysfunctional, the lats could also contribute to hyperextension of the low back.

Now, we do know that when we contract any given muscle that the surrounding muscles and tissue will also contract to some degree or that the tension created by said muscle will cause tension in the surrounding tissues. We also know for a fact that certain factors will cause tissues to adhere to what’s around it. If we just look at some of the tissues that surround the lat (which would be underneath the lat), we would see muscle like serratus anterior, serratus posterior, erector spinae group, and a portion of the QL. We would also see very close connection to gluteus maximus and gluteus medius. If our lat was to begin to adhere to our serratus anterior, we would have a lat contributing to a dispositioned scapula and if it were to adhere to our QL, it would contribute even further to a dispositioned hip. Both of which would cause pain and restriction in the respective area.

This is another example of why it is so beneficial to move and explore while we stretch. Moving and playing with stretches will not only stretch what we are trying to target, but also anything else around it that may be sticky and constricted.

See for yourself. Try getting into this “lat stretch” and see how many different places you can feel lengthening as you lean, rotate, pull, reach, lunge forward or combine movements!

If you have no band, you can also utilize a doorway. Just grab onto the frame and lean away.

With the band, first of all, attach it to something that will not move. Begin by hinging at the hips and lean away from your anchor point creating traction in the shoulder and upper back. Now this is where we start playing! Lightly pull with the hips, lean, twist, bend both knees, drop down into a lunge, reach, the possibilities are endless. Explore and see where you feel the most tissue being lengthened. And keep moving!

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