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Your Low Back Is Literally Connected To Your Shoulder: It’s Called Your Lats

The human body is an amazing thing when you sit down and really think about it. The ability of our body being able to self heal, regulate, and maintain homeostasis (equilibrium) is far more fascinating than what capabilities that the new iPhone has.

One of the jaw dropping moments that my clients have is when I tell them that our low backs are connected to our shoulder. And that is all thanks to the muscle that is the latissimus dorsi.

The lats, based on their attachment sites, can cause a lot of different movement diagnoses that can affect the shoulder, low back, and hips.

As far as the attachment sites, we can see in the image that the lats connect on the spinous processes of T7-12, L1-5, iliac crest (top of the hips), inferior angle of the scapula and onto the humerus.

The lats cause the shoulder to extend, adduct, and internally rotate. But another factor that they cause that is often overlooked is that they cause low back extension. Lats can get pretty bound up and can cause postural issues that can lead to pain for some individuals, either at the shoulder, scapular region, or the low back into the hips.

When I am assessing people, I look for a few signs that lead me to believe that this person could be dealing with some toned up lats.

1. Excessive Lumbar Lordosis

I like to look at people from the side, like in the image below, to look at their low back extension. In this individual, you can see that he has some excessive low back extension going on. That already gets me thinking that he has some tight lats going on.

Another thing to look for is if his arms are going behind his body. In this image, his arms are pretty vertical so he’s not going into shoulder extension.

2. Arm Positioning

The second view that I like to have is looking at the front of the individuals body. From here, you can see that both of his arms are internally rotated.  Meaning, that his palms are facing back. Like I mentioned, lats are an internal rotator so I’m thinking that his lats could be causing this positioning.

3. Scapular Resting Position

The last view I like is looking at their back, and specifically at their shoulder blades. If their lats are tight they can be causing scapular depression and some downward rotation. This causes the shoulder blades to have to rotate upward more when going overhead. And the depressed shoulders could be causing some impingement to nerves and vascular tissue that run under the collar bones.

In this image, he doesn’t have scapular depression or downward rotation.

The majority of clients that I work with are dealing with some tight lats, just due to what positions we put our bodies in throughout the day and lacking strength in other areas.

Because the lats are attached to areas of our low back, it catches people by surprise that I am looking at different areas along with their shoulder when trying to help them get out of pain.

One of my goals when helping to reduce tightness in our lats is to do the opposite of what the lats are doing. I am going to get people to roll their hips back and get them out of excessive lumbar extension.

An exercise like the 90/90 hip lift is going to help out a lot of clients.

The goal of this exercise is to dig the heels into the box to roll the hips back. My tailbone is coming off the ground and then I am smashing my low back into the ground. We can add reaching to this by putting the arms in an overhead position to challenge the lats a little more.

We can also do an all 4s belly lift.

This allows us to get a long reach through our shoulder blades and to help create a more natural curve through our thoracic spine. I’m also trying to tuck my pelvis underneath as hard as I can and breathing into it.

The best bang for your buck exercise is the lat hang.

Hanging on the bar is going to stretch the lats already, but by tucking the pelvis it is going to intensive the stretch like non other. We want to keep the ribcage down and prevent the low back from arching. Breathing into this stretch is going to allow for some of that tone in the lats to calm down.

As a physical therapist assistant, I will also get my hands on the lats by doing some soft tissue work or use the instrument assisted tools to help reduce some of that tone. You will be surprised at how bogged down the lats can get once you get your hands on them and actually feel the tension that they have.

When it comes down to it, if your trainer or therapist isn’t looking at the whole picture, then you need to go somewhere else. It’s amazing the success I have had decreasing shoulder pain by helping restore position in the low back or by even doing some manual work as well.

If you need help getting out of pain, wherever that may be, consider working with my as an online client. Also, I am running a Christmas Transformation Challenge with the winner receiving $500! Click here to find out more information and to apply to secure 1 of the 20 spots available.

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