Anatomy Review: Latissimus Dorsi

by David Lauterstein

Origin: sacrum, iliac crest, L5-T7, R 10-12, inferior angle of scapula, Insertion: Intertubercular grove of humerus, Action: Extension,medial rotation of humerus, adduction of humerus, depression of shoulder girdle, lower fibers depress ribcage, especially in coughing.

Just as it may be said that we reach out from our guts –insofar as pectoralis major flows up to the arm from its interdigitations with the rectus abdomininis – so even more literally do we bring the arm down and back all the way from its basis on the lumbar vertebra and sacrum. For the sacrum is the most inferior point of origin of the latissimus dorsi, the foremost “down presser” of the arm. This is one subtle muscle, I tell you!

The latissimus dorsi begins its life around the sacrum as a thin slice of roast beef. It swells, west of the armpit, into a little sausage whose skin then continues alone attaching as a mere tendinous flap to the upper front surface of the humerus.

Reach for the stars…but not without the cooperation of latissimus dorsi. For in its graceful letting go, it allows the fullest reach of which we are capable. Since most of the latissimus is so thin, it may be difficult to palpate. Therefore, I often use movements – specifically “down-pressing” and reaching to enhance its awareness, strength and length.

Have the client lying prone gently reaching above his/her head, simultaneously effleurage deeply along the latissimus from sacrum toarmpit. At farthest reach, then have the client reverse direction and bring thearm slowly back down his/her side, eventually depressing the shoulder girdle itself. Support is move with deep effleurage from armpit to sacrum.

After supporting the clients alternately lengthening and contracting a few times, reverse your direction – while they’re reaching up, effleurage down to sacrum; while they’re pressing down, go up toward the shoulder. This resistance will accentuate their awareness.

Lastly repeat the upward stroking with the reach and go down with the press. This is often an excellent way to get awareness, movement and life into this all-important first layer of the back and prime mover of the arm.

Learn techniques like the ones above in our massage continuing education workshop Movin’ and Groovin’ with Gretchen Cole happening this Spring 2009.