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Latissimus Dorsi: Learn Your Muscles

The latissimus dorsi is one of your glamour back muscles. Because of its superficial location, it is easy to notice well developed lats. These lovely muscles aren’t just for show, though. They play a role in scapular stability and respiration, but their main job is to bring overhead objects safely to you.

Here’s more on the widest muscle in the human body.

Location

latissimus dorsi

Thanks to CoreWalking for the image.

The origin of the latissimus dorsi is a broad sheet of tendon attached to the spinous processes of the lower 6 thoracic and all the lumbar vertebrae. It also originates on the posterior surface of the sacrum, the posterior crest of the ilium, the lower 3 or 4 ribs, and on the inferior angle of the scapula. So, when you look at the picture, all of the white part is the originating tendon of this muscle.

The insertion of the latissimus dorsi is near the midline of the humerus, very near the shoulder joint. Specifically, this insertion point is called the intertubercular sulcus or the bicipital groove. It’s okay to just simplify it, though.

It’s interesting to note that this muscle twists upon itself before inserting. This twist is essential for the muscle to work correctly. Without this twist, I doubt that you would be able to smoothly reach above your head to bring an object toward you.

Function

According to the Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards, the latissimus dorsi “extends, retracts and medially rotates the humerus at the shoulder. Through its action on the humerus it depresses, retracts and rotates the scapula downwards. [It also] assists in forced expiration.” This is the technically correct explanation of the action of this muscle. Yes, shoulder blade placement is important, but you probably don’t focus on that sort of thing throughout the day.

The action that you may already associate with the latissimus dorsi is reaching above your head to bring something to your chest. For example, when you’re doing a lat pull in a gym, you’re bringing a bar attached to weights to your chest. However, think of the opposite movement.

Climbing is an activity that recruits your latissimus dorsi. Your hands are fixed on a spot above your head, and you pull your chest up to your hands.

Common Dysfunction

According to the WellnessDigest.com, you could have an injury to your latissimus dorsi if you feel pain in the mid-back, front of the shoulder, or side of your rib cage. Other symptoms of injury include pain when the arms are overhead, while reaching forward, or while breathing. It’s possible that instead of pain, you will feel numbness or tingling down your arm toward your ring and little fingers. If an injury is present, the pain is steady and constant.

Restoring or Maintaining Health

If you relate to any of the above listed symptoms, see your doctor. Your doctor can schedule the appropriate tests, imaging, therapy, and medicine to help you recover from your injury.

If you are not injured and simply want a healthy latissimus dorsi, look for exercises with your arms overhead. Some good options in yoga are Reverse Warrior, Warrior 1, Crescent lunge, Warrior 3, and any arm balances like Handstand or Crow pose. Incorporate Cactus arms into some of these poses to help open the chest and place the shoulder blades in the appropriate position.

More Information

I consulted The Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey. Recently, the book was revised and is in its third edition. I love this book as a quick go-to guide for easy to understand anatomy.

For those who are more interested in technical terminology and smaller muscles, I recommend Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards. Any time a client comes to me with pain, I use these flash cards.

What’s your favorite way to strengthen your latissimus dorsi? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.

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