Can tight lats cause shoulder pain?

If you’ve landed on this page, there’s a good chance that you might be having shoulder pain and you’re wondering if your lats (aka those big wing shaped muscles on your back) are the culprit.

The answer? Maybe??? However, it’s important to know that pain usually isn’t muscle specific. It has more to do with how you’re using (or not using) your body during the day or in your workouts.

The first thing you need to know is that “tight” muscles are not typically “weak” muscles. 

Your lats are important. You want strong lats and shouldn’t fear using them! They’re helpful for all sorts of exercises, including pull-ups and deadlifts and if you ever found yourself needing to pull yourself up off the ground, your lats would be one of the muscle groups to get you there.

However, like all things in life, it is possible to over achieve lat engagement during exercises. Particularly if you’ve been taught to pull your shoulders back and down in everything you do, which may cause pain or dysfunction, because your shoulder blades are meant to move up AND down!

A great example of when the shoulders need to move out and up – aka the opposite of back and down?

The overhead press. When you reach your arms overhead, you want your shoulder blades to be able to move into upward rotation, because if they don’t, you can jam your upper arm bone into part of your shoulder blade and create something called a shoulder impingement, which…hurts.

Beyond that, if you walk around with your shoulders pulled back and down at all times, it can create strain and tension patterns on your neck, shoulders, and lower back, because the shoulder blades are meant to move.

This explains how “tight” lats can create back or shoulder pain. However, note that it’s not that your lats are overly strong. It’s more that they’re being used incorrectly at certain times.

What “tight” lats look like

Here’s a simple test for tight lats

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Slowly reach your arms up to the ceiling and overhead while trying to keep the back of your ribcage connected to the floor.
  3. Is it hard to keep the back of your ribs on the ground or does your back want to arch when you start to reach your arms overhead?

Then your lats might be tight.

If this is you, no big deal. Let’s discuss what to do about it.

Step 1: Stretch your lats.

This will:

  • Teach your body what it feels like to move the shoulders in an upward position.
  • Reduce pain and tension across the lower back and shoulders
  • Temporarily increasing your flexibility to make strength work more effective

Step 2: Strengthen your upper body and back while allowing the shoulders to explore movement in many directions – not just “back and down.” 😉

Here’s the exercises I would recommend doing:

  • Horizontal pulling: TRX rows, dumbbell rows, kettlebell rows
  • Vertical pulling: Deadlifts, pull-ups, assisted pull-ups
  • Horizontal pressing: Floor press, chest press, push-ups, bench press
  • Vertical pressing: Overhead presses

Stretches for tight lats

Leave your thought