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4 Causes of Lat Muscle Strain and How to Avoid Them

The human body works with the help of a group of muscles that coordinate your movements by antagonistic and agonistic actions. Your muscles ensure that your body is moving like a well-oiled machine. 

One of these muscles is the latissimus dorsi muscle which is the largest of the back muscles in your body. An injury to this muscle can cause several unpleasant effects throughout the upper body, restricting your everyday activities. (Also check out our page on latissimus dorsi pain.)

In this article, we will explore the common reasons behind your lat muscle strain and what you can do to avoid it.

Lat Muscle Strain Image

What is a Latissimus Dorsi Muscle?

The latissimus dorsi muscle, also known as “lat”, is one of the largest muscles in your back. It’s known for its characteristic large, flat, “V” shaped muscle spanning the width of your back. 

You use your lat muscles in everyday activities such as standing, walking, sitting, or performing any activity with your upper body. It even stabilizes your body’s core - which shows that it’s a pretty important muscle in the body.

The lat muscle plays a crucial role as a stabilizer by providing balance for the pectoralis which is the largest muscle of the front of the upper body. Moreover, it also assists in arm function. It is basically a climbing muscle that works to extend and rotate your upper limbs.

An injury to your latissimus dorsi muscle can cause pain in numerous places throughout your body such as the shoulder blade, upper and lower back, arms, or fingers.

Causes of Lat Muscle Strain

Excessive use of the latissimus dorsi can lead to muscle strains or tendonitis which can cause incredible pain in several places. 

According to doctors, if you are frequently performing these three movements of your shoulder - extension, abduction, and internal rotation, you are at a risk for an overuse injury. The pain could be due to an overuse of this muscle, using bad posture or technique, or a failure to warm up before the exercise.

Here are some of the most common causes of latissimus dorsi muscle strain:

1. Sports Injury

    Lat muscle is most frequently used during exercises that involve throwing and pulling. Playing sports such as baseball and golf demand your body to perform repetitive movements that can overstretch the muscles leading to pain on mobility.

    Sports that can cause latissimus muscle pain include:

    • Gymnastics
    • Tennis
    • Baseball
    • Rowing
    • Swimming
    • Golfing

    2. Strenuous Activities

      Other activities that include overuse of these muscles and performance of adduction, extension, and internal rotation are as follows:

      • Shoveling snow
      • Chopping wood
      • Chin-ups and pull-ups
      • Pushing to get out of a chair
      • Reaching forward or overhead repeatedly

      3. Poor Posture

        Some people have the tendency to slouch which can cause poor posture and back strain. In cases where pain develops without any history of trauma or sports, the cause is most likely a bad posture.

        Having poor posture puts extra stress on your muscles and ligaments which supports your back. This causes some of the muscles to overwork and results in muscle spasms and muscle strain.

        Poor posture can also mean uneven posture - check out how uneven shoulders can cause back pain.

        4. Muscle Tear

          In rare cases, your latissimus dorsi muscle can tear. Muscle tears are most likely to happen in professional athletes such as golfers, water skiers, rock climbers, volleyball players, gymnasts, and track athletes.

          Tearing the lat muscle can cause a dull pain when you are at rest but an intense pain when you are trying to mobilize it.

          Symptoms of Lat Muscle Strain

          If your latissimus dorsi muscle has been strained, it can create symptoms such as:

          • Pain that worsens when you reach overhead, reach forward, or extend your arms
          • Pain that is burning in nature
          • Swelling on the back
          • Discoloration of the skin on the back
          • Stiffness of the lat muscles
          • A palpable mass on the lat muscle
          • Tingling in the lower arms
          • Difficulty breathing
          • Tendonitis in the middle and lower back

          Sometimes this pain can be hard to pinpoint because of its generalized nature. However, notice if you feel pain in these specific parts:

          • Lower, middle, and upper back (the most common site of pain)
          • The back of the shoulders
          • The base of the scapula or the “shoulder blade”
          • The inside of the arms, extending all the way down to your fingers
          • The lower arms

          How To Avoid Lat Muscle Strain

          In order to avoid latissimus muscle strain, you can make certain lifestyle changes that will limit the stress you put on your muscles and ensure their proper use.

          Here are some of the ways you can avoid lat muscle strain:

          • Use proper form during sports, exercise, and strenuous activities
          • Avoid overuse of the muscles through repetitive movements
          • Make sure you warm up and cool down before and after a workout
          • Apply a heating pad to your back before you begin exercising
          • Gently stretch after warming up and before cooling down
          • Keep your water intake up throughout the day
          • Consider getting back massages every now and then

          How To Treat Lat Muscle Strain

          The best way to treat any muscle pain is through rest and physical therapy. In the medical community, a common mnemonic is used for this purpose called RICE.


          Give your muscles some rest for a few days and avoid using them unless absolutely necessary, especially if they are causing pain on movement. However, excessive rest can also make the muscles stiff and weak, making it harder for you to move them again. Slowly start using the back muscles after two days but be careful not to push them against their limits.


          Immediately apply ice on your back and shoulders once the injury has taken place. A drop in the temperature will arrest the swelling and keep it from spreading. 

          Be careful not to apply ice directly on the back. Instead, use an ice pack or wrap the ice block in a towel and then gently apply it on the back. You can also use a cold compress as an alternative. Keep the ice on the back for at least 20 minutes in order to minimize the swelling. 

          For the first day, repeat this process after every hour. For the coming few days, apply ice in the same way every four hours.


          Another method you can use to minimize swelling is by wrapping the back with an elastic bandage until the swelling is under control. Make the bandage snug so that it is comfortable around the back but not too tight that it cuts off the circulation to your back.


          Sitting up straight or putting cushions behind your upper back and shoulder might help elevate the back muscles. By keeping the affected area above the level of your heart, you can improve swelling by draining any collected fluid from that area, reduce pain, and speed up the healing process.

          Other ways you can alleviate the symptoms of lat muscle strain are:


          While it's always better to consult a professional medical practitioner on how to proceed in the event of a muscle strain, some exercises can make your road to recovery better. 

          1. Back Bow or “The Superman” Pose

          Lie down face down on a yoga mat and extend your straightened legs and arms away from the body in such a way that you can see your arms in front of your head. Now use your back to raise the shoulders and extended limbs towards the ceiling. 

          Hold yourself in this position for 10 seconds before lowering the limbs down.

          2. Pelvic Lift

          Lie down flat on the back with your arms at the side. Bend your legs so that the heels are closer to your hips. Then lift your pelvic floor toward the ceiling and then slowly lower it to the floor while keeping the hands and feet in their places.

          Anti-Inflammatory Medications

          In order to deal with the pain, you can take some over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or CBD Arnica. These can help the swelling go down resulting in reduced pain.

          Other than that, all you need to do is give it some time and the strain will probably heal on its own.


          1. How long does a lat muscle strain take to heal?

            Grade 1 strains: Require two to three weeks

            Grade 2 strains: Require basically a month.

            Grade 3 strains: Require a medical procedure and can accompany significantly longer healing periods.

            2. What causes tightness in the lat muscle?

              The most common reason behind tightness of the lat muscle is throwing and pulling. Working out without warming up is also a reason behind it.

              3. Does lat muscle strain require surgery?

                Most lat muscle strains get better on their own without the need of medicines even. All you need to do is rest and take some painkillers if the pain is unbearable. It is highly unlikely that you would need a surgery for it unless the muscle is torn badly.



                Now that you've read about lat muscle strain, check out our page on how to do a Dead Hang

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