Let’s Talk about Lats
Why are our latissimus dorsi AKA our lats, important for pain, posture, and athletics? The lats play a big role in controlling the upper extremities. Controlling that upper part of our bodies is important for everyday tasks such as walking or running, sitting upright, and maintaining proper posture. Weak or tight lats affect all these movements in a negative way, whether that may be by causing back pain, or by prompting other muscles to compensate for what is lacking in the lats. So if the LATS are too weak or too tight, you can imagine how that would impact back pain.
A teenage gymnast presented us with a long history of low back pain. It soon became clear that she had tight lats. After this issue was addressed and the lats were lengthened to optimal length, an underlying hip asymmetrical weakness was uncovered. This weakness was contributing to poor landing mechanics in gymnastics, thus perpetuating her low back pain. So, that is just one real life example of how dysfunction with the lats can affect athletic performance, but you can see how this could also affect gait, etc.
Gait is the pattern of movement that you use when you walk or run. It is an important functional movement that requires motor control of your core and limbs. Multiple muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones work synergistically to coordinate movement and stability between your arms and legs while walking. The latissimus dorsi works closely with the gluteus maximus, which helps control the lower extremities. Imagine a big X painted on your back, from the right shoulder to the left hip and from the left shoulder to the right hip. When you take a step, one diagonal shortens while the opposite diagonal lengthens. When your gluteus maximus engages on one side to lift your leg behind you, the opposite latissimus dorsi also engages to bring the opposite arm back. This provides stabilization of your torso, especially the sacroiliac joint.
So if you are wondering if YOUR latissimus dorsi is optimal length here is a quick test:
Lie down and bring bent knees over chest and flatten your lower back. Now can you stretch arms with elbows straight and touch the ground. If you could NOT do this or had pain trying than repeat the test and lie with knees bent and arms reaching straight up and lower arms overhead to the floor and see where they stop (Good length if they touch the floor!) and then stretch legs straight and see if improves arm flexibility. If when the legs are straight and THEN the arms go back, your lats are TIGHT!!!