Tight Lats? Causes, Symptoms & How To Fix (Stretch For Pain)

The Latissimus Dorsi muscles, also known as your lats, are the large flat muscles of the back that connect the bone of the upper arm to the spine and hip on each side of the body.

From that description alone, it becomes apparent that the lats are extremely important for strength, mobility, posture, and overall endurance. One of the main functions of the lats is to stabilize and protect the spine while simultaneously keeping your back and shoulders strong.  

Because they’re so large - connecting the shoulders to the shoulder blades to the arms to the ribs, and finally to the spine - this muscle group plays a large role in many of our day-to-day functions. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most common parts of the human body to experience pain, soreness, and tightness.  

If you’re dealing with tight lats or any other form of discomfort in the Latissimus Dorsi muscles, this guide can help you determine the causes and recommended stretching method for treatment. 

One of the main explanations for lat tightness is overuse. Whether you’re going too hard at the gym with your lat pulldown routine and using weight that is too heavy, or working a strenuous job, overexerting your Latissimus Dorsi muscles can create tightness, soreness, and even pain.  

More specifically, though, here are a few of the most common causes of tight lats: 

Reaching Forward & Overhead Repeatedly

A movement as simple as reaching forward or over your head could be why you’re searching for answers on how to fix tight lats. For example, if you’re at work all day reaching for items on the top shelf of the storeroom, your lats could become strained. 

Exercises Like Swimming, Rock-Climbing & Tennis  

Any form of exercise that requires the use of these muscles can create that unpleasant tightness. While most fitness regimens involve lat movement in some form or another, the ones that first come to mind are those that focus on the upper body, like swimming, rock-climbing, and tennis. You can expect the tightness to be more severe when more resistance is applied, especially when weight lifting.  

woman in a pink shirt doing a lat stretch

Poor Posture & Slouching  

Remember when your mother kept telling you to sit up straight as a child? Well, this wasn’t just to keep up with appearances. Sitting or standing with poor posture, slouching, or sitting without back support can cause the muscles to become sore and tight. 

Chin-Ups, Pull-Ups & Push-Ups  

The movements involved with chin-ups, pull-ups, and push-ups directly target your lats. While doing a reasonable number of reps can strengthen your lats, overdoing it can do more harm than good.  

The main thing to remember when determining the cause of your lat tightness is that any type of movement or exercise that utilizes these muscles could be responsible. 


What Are The Symptoms Of Tight Lats? 

Maybe you’re experiencing tightness or soreness in your back, but you’re not quite sure if the Latissimus Dorsi muscles are the source of the pain. These symptoms suggest that they are:  

  • Poor Posture   
    Not only can poor posture cause lat tightness, but tight lats can actually lead to poor posture or slouching. Sitting with a straight spine can feel uncomfortable when your lats are tight, so if you find that your shoulders naturally stay in a rounded position, it’s time to find the best lat stretch for you. 
  • Ongoing Back Or Neck Pain   
    If you’re dealing with chronic back pain or neck pain, there’s a very good chance that it’s caused by lat tightness. There’s a strong correlation between tight lats and back pain since these muscles stretch over most of the back’s surface area. They’re also responsible for connecting the muscles of the arms and shoulders to the spine, so neck pain is another common symptom. 
  • Occasional Back Aches   
    Even if your back discomfort happens sporadically and isn’t ongoing, this could be explained by tight lats. Whether it’s in your upper back, middle back, or lower back, occasional aches and pains could be a result of tightness in these muscles. 
  • Shoulder Stiffness, Pain, Or Soreness   
    Most people assume that shoulder issues are associated with muscles of the neck, shoulders, or even biceps and triceps. But shoulder stiffness and soreness can actually be from overuse of the lats. 

Stretches & Exercises Guaranteed To Fix Tight Lats 

The importance of stretching goes deeper than just improving flexibility.  

Stretching is an essential part of any fitness routine, and Harvard Medical School says that “stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.” 

Even if you’re not currently experiencing tightness, regularly stretching can prevent tightness, soreness, pain, stiffness, or injury from happening at all. You can start by focusing on these stretches for tight lats:  

1. Bench T-Spine Mobilization

This stretch is great for relieving tightness as well as increasing lat mobility. Start by sitting on your knees and extending your arms in front of you while resting your hands on a bench, exercise ball, or seat of a chair.  

Then, start lowering your entire upper body towards the floor (keeping your hands on the bench) so that your elbows and arms extend above your head. If sitting on your knees is uncomfortable, you can also do this stretch while standing with a chair in front of you. 

2. Active Floor Stretch  

Performing an active floor stretch is an easy yet effective way to relieve lat tightness. Simply kneel on the floor (you can use a yoga mat or foam workout mat) and sink your hips back while continuously reaching your hands to one side in front of you.  

Continue this movement 10 times before switching to the other side. If you’re familiar with yoga, this stretch is similar to a Child's Pose with side stretches, but with active movement involved. 

man doing a yoga floor stretch

3. Self-Myofascial Release  

For this next stretch, you’ll need a foam roller. The self-myofascial release is focused on slowly releasing tension and loosening the muscles for better mobility. Start by lying on your side with the roller tucked in between your armpit and the floor. Then use your weight to start rolling back and forth to release any tension in the area. 

4. Yoga  

Speaking of yoga, there are tons of postures (called asanas) in yoga that focus on the lat muscles. Child’s Pose is a great way to stretch out the lats, but you can also do a simple Upward Salute. This is when you lift both arms overhead towards the ceiling while standing. For the best results, try to keep your core engaged and your spine in alignment. Yoga can be a beneficial bodyweight exercise compared to simply stretching.

woman doing a yoga pose

5. Standing Lat Stretch  

A standing lat stretch is an easy way to help with tightness. Find a sturdy object to hold onto, like a table or countertop, and hold on to the object with one hand. With the other hand, hold on to the opposite rib cage to keep the scapula stable. Then start bending your knees and sitting back for a gentle stretch. 

6. Quadruped Assisted Reach Roll Flex  

This stretch is slow and controlled, and it’s great for increasing (as well as maintaining) mobility in the lats. It involves 4 different movements to target as much of this muscle group as possible. You can find out how to do the quadruped assisted reach roll flex in this video.  


People Also Ask (FAQs)

Can tight lats cause rib pain? What about hip pain? 

Tight lats and hip pain, rib pain, neck pain, back pain, and shoulder pain are all correlated. These muscles act as “wings” of the back, stretching all the way down the spine from the lower armpits to the lower back. This is the largest muscle in the upper body, so anything in its path - ribs, neck, back, hips, and shoulders - can be affected by tightness. 

Why are my lats always sore? 

If your lats always seem to feel sore, this is probably from overuse, but it could also mean that you're practicing poor technique or form when working these muscles. Using an improper form with push-ups, pull-ups, or lat pulldowns can not only lead to soreness but also injuries like muscle tears, so make sure you’re practicing the proper techniques for each exercise. 

Do massages remove lat tightness? 

It’s not a guarantee, but massages can help to relieve muscle tightness, and that includes tightness in the Latissimus Dorsi. Before you get a massage, make sure to tell the practitioner about your lat discomfort, and they can focus on relieving the tightness in that area.  


Conclusion

Now that you know the causes, symptoms, and steps for how to stretch tight lats, you can not only diagnose your lat problems but also take steps to find relief. However, if the problem persists, it's recommended that you see a professional to find out exactly what’s going on with this muscle group.