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Stretch the largest muscle in the upper body for good posture

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

A tight latissimus dorsi muscle can affect your posture because it pulls your arms into internal rotation causing that “gorilla” look. This can cause low back and neck pain. Learn how to stretch it.

About a muscle

The latissimus dorsi (lats) is a wide muscle that is located very close to the skin.

Its origin is the top of the hip (iliac crest) and the lumbar spine and runs up and around the back to insert on the inner part of the upper arm. The muscle brings the arm backward and in toward the body, lowers the shoulder girdle, brings the shoulder blades together, bends the spine backward and sideways, and increases the arch of the back when the arms are lifted over the head.

Causes of tightness

Since most major movements are performed with the arms below the head, this muscle becomes tight and shortened from lack of exercise. Tension in this muscle can limit movement done with the arms above the shoulder, such as putting things away on a shelf above your head. It can also internally rotate the arm at the shoulder causing rounded, slumped shoulders. This affects the position of the head causing tension in the neck.

Symptoms of tightness

  • Difficulty working with the hands high above the head

  • Pain in the shoulder joint

  • Pain or ache in the lower back

Flexibility test

Stand with your back against a wall or lie on the floor with our arms by your sides. Bring your arms up and try to reach the wall or the floor with the back of your hands. Always keep your arms straight and your low back in contact with the wall or floor. If you cannot touch the wall or floor, you have tight lat muscles. The lats are typically tight in two areas – in the armpit and right below the ribs.

The fix

Stretching the muscle will elongate it and allow it to release the arm out of internal rotation. This will help with that hunched position that affects the tightness in the neck. Follow these steps.

Massaging the muscle with a static release will ease tension and increase circulation to the area. Here is how to do it.

  1. Find a door handle that is situated the same height as your belly button.

  2. Stand in front of the handle about arms-length away.

  3. Grab it with your right hand and take a step to the side so that your left shoulder is closer to the wall than your right one.

  4. Bend your upper body forward so that your arm and body are lined up with each other.

  5. Reach your right leg backward and slightly to the left.

  6. Place your left hand on your left knee to support your low back.

  7. Lean back and to the right to feel the stretch on the right side of your body from under your armpit, down the right of your body.

  8. Hold this position 10 seconds.

  9. Without moving, contract the muscle by trying to pull your hand to your waist and hold 5 seconds.

  10. Relax the contraction and lean more into the stretch to a new stretch point.

  11. Repeat steps 9 and 10.

This stretch can be performed daily. The release of this muscle will help alleviate internal shoulder rotation, free up the neck and ease pain in the neck, upper and even lower back.


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