What Does Latissimus Dorsi Muscle Do?

Reviewed on 3/26/2021
The latissimus dorsi muscle is the largest in the body and is up to 20-40 cm.
The latissimus dorsi muscle is the largest in the body and is up to 20-40 cm.

The latissimus dorsi muscle is the largest in the body and is up to 20-40 cm. The main functions of this muscle are:

  • Helping to extend, move, and rotate the shoulder joint
  • Helping to keep the spine straight
  • Bringing the shoulder girdle down
  • Assisting with arching (bending) the spine
  • Assisting in sideways bending
  • Contributing to movements, such as rowing, some swimming strokes, and handling an ax
  • Contracting to push the air in the lungs out during coughing

Although the latissimus dorsi is the largest muscle, it isn’t the strongest, and humans can survive without this muscle. Hence, the physicians use this muscle during surgery:

  • To cover large wounds.
  • To substitute lost tissue in reconstructive surgery.

Studies have shown that most people can survive without this muscle and continue their daily activities without any issue.

What is a latissimus dorsi muscle?

The latissimus dorsi muscle, also known as lats, is a flat, wing-like muscle that originates from the lower part of the back. It is located in the mid-back. The lats originate along the seventh thoracic vertebra (T7) of the spine and extend to the humerus. The muscle also covers the tip of the shoulder blade (scapula).

The lats cover the width of the back and mainly control the movement of the shoulder. It is located superficially and clearly visible when the skin is removed.

What are the most common conditions associated with weak latissimus dorsi muscle?

A weak lats muscle may interfere with:

  • Moving your arm toward your body or away from the body.
  • Your ability to rotate the trunk.

Tight or short lats can interfere with:

Injury or damage to lats muscle can lead to:

You may experience lats muscle pain:

  • Anywhere in the back
  • Behind the shoulders
  • Under the shoulder blades
  • Even down to fingertips

To identify whether the pain is due to lats muscle injury, you should check:

  • If the discomfort increases when you lift the arms over the head or you are throwing something.
  • Stretching the arms forward at shoulder height.

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How to prevent latissimus dorsi muscle injury?

You can avoid lats muscle injury by taking few preventive steps:

  • Maintain an upright posture and refrain from stooping.
  • Remain hydrated throughout the day, especially before and after exercising.
  • Get an occasional massage to relax any stiffness 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.
  • Try relaxing exercises after a workout.

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References
Jeno SH, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Back, Latissimus Dorsi. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448120/

National Association of Myofascial Trigger Point Therapists. Symptoms Checker: Latissimus Dorsi. https://check.myofascialtherapy.org/symptomcheck/symptom_upper_latissimus.html

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