This blog post will go through every exercise that will help address your Rhomboid muscle pain.
What is Rhomboid Muscle Pain?
Rhomboid muscle pain is experienced as a pain between the shoulder blade and spine.
It is generally due to a strain, spasm or muscle knot in the Rhomboid muscle.
(Also referred to as: Shoulder blade pain, Pain between the shoulder blades, Upper back pain.)
In This Blog Post:
- Pain between the shoulder blade and spine
- Increased pain after sitting/standing for long periods
- Pain with taking a deep breath in
- Impaired shoulder function
What causes Rhomboid Muscle pain?
In my opinion – One of the main causes of pain in the Rhomboid muscles is having Rounded Shoulders.
This is where the shoulders are in a position where they are hunched forwards.
Having Rounded Shoulders will tend to place the shoulder blade in an sub-optimal position to function effectively.
This can lead to the overloading of the muscles (including the Rhomboid) that control the scapula… especially if you spend prolonged amount of time in this position.
The Rhomboid Major/Minor (… as well as the middle/lower Trapezius) are forced to work harder as they attempt to resist the forward shoulder position.
Exercises to fix Rhomboid Muscle Pain
Follow these steps to help you get some relief from your Rhomboid muscle pain:
- Release The Painful Area
- Stretch Rhomboid
- Apply Ice or Heat
- Improve Circulation
- Relax The Rhomboid Muscle
- Release Tight Muscles
- Stretch Tight Muscles
- Stretch Thoracic Spine
- Strengthen Rhomboid Muscles
- Postural Taping
- Trigger Point Release
- Avoid Aggravating Activities
- Fix Your Posture
- Other Potential Causes Of Pain
- Common Questions
1. Release the painful area
Releasing the interscapular (pain between the shoulder blades) region can help relax and ease the tension going through the Rhomboids.
a) How Do I Relax My Rhomboid Muscle?
- Place a massage ball underneath the painful region.
- Apply as much of your body weight on top of the massage ball that you can comfortably tolerate.
- Roll your body on top of the massage ball. Aim to target the exact areas of pain.
- Keep your body completely relaxed throughout this exercise.
- Continue for 3-5 minutes.
2. Stretch the Rhomboids
Generally speaking – Muscles that are over active will tend to be the ones that hurt the most.
By stretching the overactive Rhomboid muscles, this may result in muscle relaxation and pain reduction.
a) Rhomboid Stretch
- Sit up right on the edge of a chair.
- Lower your chin towards the upper chest.
- Place your fingers behind the back of your head.
- Gently pull your head downwards.
- Whilst keeping the chin tucked, slowly curve the upper back downwards.
- Reach your elbows forwards/outwards.
- Take a deep breath in to increase the stretch sensation.
- Aim to feel a stretch in your upper back area.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
NOTE: Do NOT over stretch the Rhomboids as this may cause the muscle to become elongated and weak.
3. Apply Ice or Heat
Application of cold and/or heat therapy to the Rhomboid region can help address the pain.
… Which one is better? Try both and assess how your pain responds.
Applying ice will help numb the muscular pain.
If your pain is severe, consider placing an ice pack over the Rhomboid region for 5-10 minutes.
Applying heat will help relax the Rhomboid muscles.
4. Improve Circulation
These exercises will help warm up the Rhomboid muscles and encourage more blood to the target areas.
a) Shoulder Circles
- Slowly (but firmly) roll your shoulder blades in a backwards direction.
- Make sure to squeeze the muscles between your shoulder blades as firmly as you can.
- Keep the neck completely relaxed throughout this exercise.
- Repeat 30 times.
b) Shoulder Pumps
Similarly to shoulder circles, this exercise will help warm up your painful muscles.
- Place both hands (with elbows forward) on the sides of your head. (see Start position)
- Bring your elbows all the back. (see End position)
- Make sure to squeeze the muscles in between your shoulder blades as firmly as you can.
- Hold for 5 seconds.
- Repeat 30 times.
5. Allow The Rhomboid To Relax
Try the following position to help relax your Rhomboid region.
a) Posture Reset Exercise
- Lie down on your back.
- Have your legs supported on a chair.
- Place your arms out to the side.
- Keep your neck relaxed. (You can use a pillow if required.)
- Relax your entire body.
- Hold this position for 5-10 minutes.
Note: If you are not able to get your arms to completely be in contact with the floor, try placing a pillow underneath to support the weight of the arms.
6. Release other tight muscles
There are certain muscles (such as the Pectoralis Major/Minor, Serratus Anterior and Latissimus Dorsi) that pull the shoulder blades forwards… and thus out of the ideal alignment.
This can cause increased tension in the Rhomboid muscles as they attempt to resist the forward shoulder position.
By reducing tightness in the muscles which pull the shoulder blade forwards, it can help reduce the over activity in the Rhomboid muscles.
- Locate your Pec Major/Minor and Subclavius muscle.
- Use Google if you are unsure of the location.
- Place this area on top of a massage ball.
- Apply an appropriate amount of body weight onto the ball.
- Make sure to cover the entire chest region.
- Continue for 30 seconds.
- Locate the Serratus Anterior and Latissimus Dorsi muscle on the side of your rib cage.
- Use Google if you are unsure of their location.
- Place this area directly on top of a foam roller.
- Apply an appropriate amount of body weight onto the foam roller.
- Make sure to cover the entire length of the muscle.
- Continue for 30 seconds.
7. Stretch tight muscles
Perform the following stretches to address the tight muscles pulling the shoulder blade forwards.
- Place your palm and forearm high up onto a wall.
- Tilt your shoulder backwards throughout this stretch.
- Keep your lower ribs down to prevent the lower back from arching.
- Lunge forwards.
- Aim to feel a stretch in the chest region.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
For more stretches like this, see post: Pec Minor Stretches.
b) Serratus Anterior
- Lie down on your side.
- (bottom side will be targeted)
- Prop your upper body onto your forearm.
- Gentle pull your shoulder blades backwards.
- Whilst keeping your pelvis pinned to the ground, try to push your torso as up right as possible.
- Place more weight into your forearm as you sink into your grounded shoulder.
- Aim to feel a stretch on the side of your ribs.
- Take a deep breath into the area where you feel the stretch. (Push your ribs and belly out as much as you can!)
- Hold this position for 1 minute whilst taking deep breaths.
Note: Play around with the angle of your torso to get the correct stretch over the Serratus Anterior muscle.
For more stretches like this, see post: Serratus Anterior Stretches.
c) Latissimus Dorsi
- Assume the position above.
- Hold onto a door frame with your hand.
- Whilst anchoring your legs as shown, aim to bend your mid section as much as possible.
- Use your body weight to sink into the stretch
- Twist your pelvis away.
- Aim to feel a stretch on the side of your torso and under the armpit region.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
For more stretches like this, see post: Lat Stretches.
8. Stretch the thoracic spine
If your Thoracic Spine (Upper back) is used to being hunched forwards (Hunchback Posture), your shoulder blade is going to be placed in poor position.
Stretching the Thoracic Spine into extension will help place the shoulder blade (and the muscles that control it) into a better position to function.
a) Thoracic Extension
- Place a foam roller underneath the hunched section of the upper back.
- (The foam roller should be perpendicular to the spine.)
- Place your hands behind your head to support the weight of your head.
- Lean your body weight into the foam roller.
- Arch your upper back backwards on top of the foam roller.
- Do not let your lower ribs flare upwards.
- Perform 30 repetitions.
For more stretches: Thoracic Spine Stretches
9. Rhomboid Strengthening Exercises
The next step is to strengthen the Rhomboid muscles.
The aim of these exercises is to build resilience in these muscles so that they can tolerate more load.
a) Wall Angel
- Stand with your back to a wall.
- Keep your arms pulled backwards as to remain in contact with the wall throughout movements.
- Whilst remaining in full contact with the wall, slide your arms up and down the wall.
- Repeat 10-20 times.
Note: If you can’t keep your whole arm on the wall, step your feet slightly away from the wall until you can.
b) Rhomboid Strengthening On Floor
- Lie on the floor facing downwards.
- Have your arms reached out over your head on the floor.
- Whilst keeping the abdominal region in contact with the floor, lift your arms up as high as possible.
- Aim to feel a firm contraction of the muscles between your shoulder blades.
- Keep your neck relaxed throughout this exercise.
- Hold for 5-10 seconds.
- Repeat 10 times.
c) Incline Shrugs
- Lie face down on an inclined bench.
- Whilst holding weights in both hands, slowly (and with control) lower your hands down towards the ground.
- Let your shoulder blades be pulled forwards.
- Pull the weight up by squeezing the muscles between your shoulder blades together.
- Keep your arms straight throughout this movement.
- Pause at the top of the movement for 5 seconds.
- It is important that you can FEEL the firm contraction in the muscles between the shoulder blades.
- Repeat 30 times.
10. Postural taping
Taping your shoulder into a more ideal position will help prevent the shoulder from rolling forwards.
This can assist with taking pressure of the Rhomboid muscle.
a) Taping The Shoulder Blade
- Gently pull your shoulders back into a neutral position.
- Anchor the tape to the back of your shoulder and pull it towards the spine.
- If you develop any itchiness, rashes or swelling from the tape, it may mean you are allergic to it.
- If this is the case, remove it as soon as possible.
- Keep it on for 1-2 days.
Note: It is important that you DO NOT become reliant on taping your posture as this can lead to eventual weakness in the Rhomboid muscle.
11. trigger points for Rhomboid Muscle pain
A trigger point is a part of the muscle where there is a significant amount of increased tension.
Having trigger points in certain muscles can refer pain between the shoulder blades.
What to do:
- Apply a firm pressure onto the trigger point.
- The aim is to find an area of increased tension.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
Here are the 3 main ones:
(I would recommend that you look up the exact location of these muscles on Google.)
b) Levator Scapula
See Post: Levator Scapulae Stretches
12. Reduce exposure to aggravating activities
Aim to reduce exposure to any activity/position/movement that causes the pain in the Rhomboids.
For example: A common time when people experience Rhomboid pain is when they are in front of a computer for a prolonged amount of time.
- Take plenty of breaks away from the computer
- Sit with good posture
- Optimize your workstation set up
13. Fix your Posture!
The following postural distortions will specifically influence the position of the shoulder blade.
You may need to address the following if you want to completely resolve the Rhomboid pain.
a) Rounded Shoulders
Rounded Shoulders places the shoulder blades in a position where the Rhomboids will constantly be active to counteract the forward pull of the shoulder.
Check out this post to fix your Rounded shoulders!
b) Scapula Winging
Scapular Winging is where the medial border of the shoulder blade sticks out from the rib cage.
Check out this post to fix Scapula Winging.
c) Uneven Shoulders
Uneven Shoulders is when one shoulder is higher/lower than the other.
Check out this post to fix your Uneven shoulders.
d) Thoracic Kyphosis
A hunched upper back can cause the shoulder blades to slouch forwards.
Check out this post to fix your Hunched back.
e) Twisted Spine
If you have rhomboid pain on one side, check to see if your spine is twisting towards one side.
This can result in over activity of the Rhomboid muscles in the attempt to counter-rotate the twist in the spine.
Check out this post to fix your Twisted spine.
14. Other possible reasons for the pain
If you have persisted with the suggested exercises on this blog post and still experience pain between the shoulder blade, you may need to consider that your symptoms may not be originating from your Rhomboids.
Here are some other possible reasons for your pain:
a) Referred pain from the Cervical and/or Thoracic spine
Issues originating in the Cervical and Thoracic spine can refer pain to the shoulder blade region.
If you suspect that the Cervical and/or Thoracic spine is referring pain between your shoulder blades, I suggest that you see your Primary Care Provider for a scan.
b) Strain to the Erector Spinae muscles
The Erector Spine muscles (Spinalis, Longissimus and Iliocostalis) are situated directly underneath the Rhomboid muscles.
This group of muscles are commonly subject to strains and can mimic the same pain in the Rhomboids.
If you suspect that you may have tightness in this area, feel free to check out this blog post: Erector Spinae Stretches.
c) Dorsal Scapular Nerve issues
If the pain tends to present as burning and/or tingling between the shoulder blade and spine, this may suggest neurological involvement of the Dorsal Scapular Nerve.
The Dorsal Scapular nerve originates in the neck and travels downwards to attach to the Rhomboids.
This nerve tends to be overstretched in those who have depressed shoulders and can lead to nerve pain in the Rhomboid region.
If you feel that this is your issue, I would suggest that you correct the position of your shoulder blades.
Generally speaking – you will likely need to hold your shoulder blades in a slightly more elevated position.
(Think about raising your shoulder blades by half an inch or so).
d) Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is the compression/irritation of the nerves that pass between the neck and shoulder.
This issue can often refer pain between the shoulder blades.
e) Injuries to the ribs
Any trauma to the back of the ribs (namely ribs 2-7) can present as pain between the shoulder blades.
15. Common questions:
Do you have any questions? Feel free to ask me a question in the comment section below.
1. How long will it take to fix the pain between the shoulder blades?
It will take as long as it takes.
(There are no overnight fixes here, unfortunately!)
Persist with the recommended steps mentioned in this blog post over the next 4-6 weeks.
It has likely taken a long time for the Rhomboid Muscle Pain to develop, so it is going to take some time and effort to get rid of it as well.
2. Why do I have Pain between shoulder blades when breathing?
As you take a breath in (especially with a deep breath), this will cause the rib cage to expand.
As your muscles lay flat on the rib cage, the rib cage expansion will stretch the muscles between your shoulder blades.
If the Rhomboids are strained/tight, it can cause upper back pain when breathing.
3. Why Do I Have Rhomboid Muscle Pain While Sleeping?
This is most likely due to the side sleeping position.
This position can place the scapula in a sub-optimal position which can increase tension on the Rhomboids.
If you need to sleep on your side, make sure to use pillows to support the weight of your arms. (see above)
The goal with this is to minimize the forward position of the shoulder.
Pain in the Rhomboids in the area between the shoulder blades can be a very frustrating problem to deal with.
Try out the suggestions as mentioned on this blog post to completely eliminate your pain.
What to do next
1. Any questions?… (Leave me a comment down below.)
2. Come join me on the Facebook page. Let’s keep in touch!
3. Start doing the exercises!
Disclaimer: The content presented on this blog post is not medical advice and should not be treated as such. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Use of the content provided on this blog post is at your sole risk. Seek guidance from a healthcare professional before starting any exercises. For more information: Medical Disclaimer.