Architectural analysis and predicted functional capability of the human latissimus dorsi muscle

J Anat. 2013 Aug;223(2):112-22. doi: 10.1111/joa.12074. Epub 2013 Jun 13.


The latissimus dorsi is primarily considered a muscle with actions at the shoulder, despite its widespread attachments at the spine. There is some dispute regarding the potential contribution of this muscle to lumbar spine function. The architectural design of a muscle is one of the most accurate predictors of muscle function; however, detailed architectural data on the latissimus dorsi muscle are limited. Therefore, the aim of this study was to quantify the architectural properties of the latissimus dorsi muscle and model mechanical function in light of these new data. One latissimus dorsi muscle was removed from each of 12 human cadavers, separated into regions, and micro-dissected for quantification of fascicle length, sarcomere length, and physiological cross-sectional area. From these data, sarcomere length operating ranges were modelled to determine the force-length characteristics of latissimus dorsi across the spine and shoulder ranges of motion. The physiological cross-sectional area of latissimus dorsi was 5.6±0.5 cm2 and normalized fascicle length was 26.4±1.0 cm, indicating that this muscle is designed to produce a moderate amount of force over a large range of lengths. Measured sarcomere length in the post-mortem neutral spine posture was nearly optimal at 2.69±0.06 μm. Across spine range of motion, biomechanical modelling predicted latissimus dorsi acts across both the ascending and descending limbs of the force-length curve during lateral bend, and primarily at or near the plateau region (where maximum force generation is possible) during flexion/extension and axial twist. Across shoulder range of motion, latissimus dorsi acts primarily on the plateau region and descending limbs of the force length curve during both flexion/extension and abduction/adduction. These data provide novel insights into the ability of the latissimus dorsi muscle to generate force and change length throughout the spine and shoulder ranges of motion. In addition, these findings provide an improved understanding of the spine and shoulder positions at which the force-generating capacity of this muscle can become jeopardized, and consequently how this may affect its spine-stabilizing ability.

Keywords: biomechanics; lumbar spine; muscle architecture; sarcomere; shoulder.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cadaver
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microdissection
  • Middle Aged
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology
  • Sarcomeres / physiology
  • Shoulder / physiology
  • Superficial Back Muscles / anatomy & histology*
  • Superficial Back Muscles / physiology*