What to Know About Latissimus Dorsi Pain

Medically Reviewed by Ross Brakeville, DPT on June 18, 2023
3 min read

The latissimus dorsi is a large muscle that spans the majority of your back. Shaped like a fan, it’s generally rarely injured, but when it is, it’s due to working out or trauma.

The latissimus dorsi are large muscles covering your back. You may know them as your lats muscles. They're connected to many parts of your body, originating from areas such as your spine, ribs, and pelvis, inserting into your upper arm and shoulder. 

Physical activities that involve pulling the body upward and forward while the arms are over your head, such as the “muscle-up” exercise, can cause injury to your latissimus dorsi.

You can also get latissimus dorsi injuries from the following sports:

  • Gymnastics
  • Volleyball
  • Baseball pitching
  • Golf
  • Water skiing
  • Rock climbing

When latissimus dorsi injuries happen, they may be accompanied by shoulder trauma. It’s rare for a latissimus dorsi injury to happen alone, without another injury also happening.

If you tear your latissimus dorsi muscle, you may have the following symptoms in the affected area:

  • Burning pain
  • Pain with use of your arms especially reaching overhead
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Discoloration of the skin (ecchymosis)
  • Palpable mass on your muscle

These symptoms will typically go away within 2 weeks of rest, but you may still feel pain in the area when performing exercises.

You may also experience abdominal pain if your latissimus dorsi muscle is strained. 

Talk to your doctor right away if you have these symptoms. Your doctor will help you figure out the problem and walk you through the process of recovery.

Before deciding what treatment should be used, the doctor may analyze the severity of your latissimus dorsi tear through a type of scan called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This will help your doctor see whether there is an injury and decide what can be done to improve muscle function.

There are multiple ways to treat a latissimus dorsi injury.

Immediate self-care. You can use self-care to take care of your latissimus dorsi strain:

  • Rest by avoiding activities like exercising, which may cause more discomfort, pain, and swelling.
  • Ice the injured area by using an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel for 15 to 20 minutes. Do this every 2 to 3 hours during the first few days after the injury.

Physical therapy.Physical therapy can be used to restore muscle function if you have a latissimus dorsi injury. It can help reduce pain and manage healing to reduce complications and maximize recovery. 

Although physical therapy is often used to treat these sprains, a standard way to treat latissimus dorsi injuries doesn’t exist yet. Most reports and research have suggested that avoiding surgery is the best way of dealing with these types of injuries for both recreational and high-level athletes. 

This has led most researchers to conclude that conservative or nonsurgical management of latissimus dorsi injuries is okay because the shoulder girdle can make up for the latissimus dorsi injury.

Surgery. Surgery “may be an option if the injury is severe and limits your ability to perform at peak levels.

Spray and stretch. Spray and stretch is a way of treating muscle pain that involves spraying vapocoolant spray onto the affected muscle after placing the muscle in a passive stretch.

A passive stretch can be performed by using another part of your body to move and hold the stretch. Also known as relaxed stretching and static-passive stretching, this is when you place your muscle in a certain position and hold it with another part of your body.

Spray and stretch can be used with a home stretching program to lessen latissimus dorsi symptoms, like chronic abdominal pain.

You can prevent muscle strains and tears by doing the following activities regularly:

  • Muscle-strengthening exercises
  • Muscle-stretching exercises

Some muscle-strengthening exercises you can try out are hill walking, cycling, lifting weights, and working with resistance bands. By making your muscles work harder than they usually do, these exercises will increase the size, endurance, and strength of your muscles.

Muscle-stretching exercises, such as neck, trunk, and shoulder stretches will improve your flexibility and loosen tight muscles.

Try to come up with a physical conditioning program that will help you keep your fitness level up. This will make it less likely that you strain your latissimus dorsi muscle and other muscles when you are playing sports, doing exercises, or doing physically demanding work.