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.)
- Pain between the shoulder blade and spine
- Increased pain after sitting/standing for long periods
- Popping/clicking when moving shoulder blades
- Pain with deep breathing
- Impaired shoulder function
What causes Rhomboid Muscle pain?
One of the main causes of pain between the shoulder blades is bad posture (namely Rounded shoulders).
Having bad posture will tend to place the shoulder blade in an ineffective position to function optimally.
This can lead to the overloading of the muscles that control the scapula.
If you have bad posture, the Rhomboid Major/Minor (and the middle/lower trapezius) are forced to work harder as they attempt to pull the shoulder back.
This problem is amplified by the amount of time that you are sitting with that bad posture!
Exercises to fix Rhomboid Muscle Pain
Follow these 16 simple steps to finally get some Rhomboid muscle pain relief!
1. Release the painful area
Releasing the interscapular pain region will help ease the tension going through the Rhomboids.
(I recommend using a lacrosse massage ball as it has the right amount of firmness without being too uncomfortable to use.)
How do I relax my Rhomboid muscle?
- Place the massage ball at the site of the Rhomboid muscle pain.
- Apply as much of your body weight as comfortably tolerated on top of the massage ball.
- To increase the release, move your arm in a up/down motion. (see above)
- Target those painful areas!
- The more tight and/or overactive the muscle is, the more pain there will be. Don’t stop!
- Do not hold your breath. Relax.
- Continue for 3-5 minutes.
2. Stretch the Rhomboids
Muscles that are over active will tend to be the ones that hurt the most.
By stretching the overactive Rhomboid muscles, it will help them relax and result in a reduction in the pain between the shoulder blades.
- Grab a large exercise ball.
- Proceed to wrap your arms around the ball as far as you can.
- Hunch your upper back as much as possible as you push your hands away from you.
- Look down.
- Aim to feel a stretch in the region where you experience pain.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Repeat 3 times.
READ THIS: Do NOT over stretch the Rhomboids!
(This may cause the muscle to become even weaker).
Aim to stretch it just enough so that there is a reduction in the pain between the shoulder blades.
3. Apply Ice or Heat
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 muscles in between the shoulder blades.
Consider taking a hot shower or applying a hot pack for at least 10 minutes.
Interested in fixing your posture?
.. then come join me on the Facebook page!
I share all of my best posture tips there.
4. Shoulder circles
This exercise will help warm up the painful muscles and encourage more blood to the target areas.
- Place your finger tips on your shoulders.
- Slowly (but firmly) draw large circles with your elbows in a backwards direction.
- Make sure to squeeze the muscles between your shoulder blades as firmly as you can.
- Try to contract the area where you experience pain.
- Keep the neck completely relaxed.
- Repeat 30 times.
5. 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.
- Note: If you get a pinching pain in the shoulder, you may have Shoulder Impingement.
6. Release other tight muscles
There are other muscles that pull the shoulder blade out of the ideal alignment.
This will cause the Rhomboids to work excessively to pull it back into alignment. (… and thus leading to your pain)
Here’s an analogy: Think about the game of tug-of-war. As one side pulls harder, the other side is forced to work even harder to counter act the increased resistance.
By reducing the tension in these opposing tight muscles, it will reduce the over activity of the shoulder blade muscles.
a) Chest release
- 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.
- Continue for 30 seconds.
b) Side release
- 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 on top of a foam roller.
- Apply an appropriate amount of body weight onto the foam roller.
- Continue for 30 seconds.
7. Stretch tight muscles
a) Chest stretch
- Place both hands high up on a wall in front of you.
- Lean firmly into your hands.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades back and down.
- You should feel a stretch at the front of your chest.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
b) Serratus Anterior stretch
- 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.
c) Latissimus Dorsi stretch
- 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.
8. Stretch the thoracic spine
If your spine 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 these shoulder blade muscles in a better position to function.
- Using a rolled up towel or foam roller, place it in the middle of your thoracic spine (see above).
- Whilst supporting your head with your hands behind your neck, roll your body weight onto the foam roller.
- Arch your thoracic area (upper back) backwards.
- Do not arch your lower back!
- Maintain this position for 1 minute.
For more exercises to loosen up the joints your thoracic spine, have a look at this post:
9. Promote shoulder mobility
If you lack full mobility of your shoulder joint, there will be compensatory changes in your posture.
If you lack internal rotation: The shoulder will naturally hitch upwards/forwards and may cause more strain to the muscles between the shoulder blades.
To check if you lack internal rotation:
- Lie down with your shoulder at 90/90 position. (see above)
- Drop your hand down towards the ground.
- Results: If your shoulder pops up before you reach 60-70 degrees of pure shoulder movement, then you lack internal rotation.
To increase the internal rotation of the shoulder:
- Place your hand as far up behind your back.
- Pull your shoulders backwards firmly.
- Lift your elbows towards the backwards direction.
- Hold for 60 seconds.
- Repeat 3 times.
- To progress this exercise: Do the same exercise whilst lying on your back.
10. Strengthen your scapula muscles
Strengthening the muscles that are responsible for optimal shoulder blade placement is vital in addressing Rhomboid muscle pain.
a) Wall angel
- Stand with your back to a wall.
- Keep your back and arms pulled backwards as to remain in contact with the wall throughout movements.
- Whilst remaining 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.
- 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.
11. Postural taping
Taping your shoulder position will help you maintain the right posture and prevent you from defaulting back to bad posture.
- Maintain a good posture by gently pulling your shoulders back into a neutral position.
- On the side of your pain, place the tape starting from collar bone and pull back and down to the middle of your thoracic spine.
- Make sure you place firm downward pressure when applying the tape.
- 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.
12. 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 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
13. Reduce exposure to aggravating activities
When are you experiencing your pain?
Whatever it may be:
- Either change it so that it doesn’t make your pain worse,
- or don’t do it at all!
A common time when people experience pain between the shoulder blades is when they are in front of a computer.
Make sure your workstation is helping you maintain a better posture!
14. Fix your Posture!
The following postural distortions will specifically influence the shoulder blade region:
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
Check out this post to fix Scapula Winging.
c) Uneven shoulders
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 your spine is twisted to one side, it can force one of the shoulders to go too far forwards.
This can result in over activity of the shoulder blade muscles in the attempt to counter-rotate the twist in the spine.
Check out this post to fix your Twisted spine.
15. Other possible reasons for the 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.
By addressing these areas, the pain between the shoulder blades is more likely to resolve.
Obtain a scan to these areas if you suspect this might be the case.
b) Strain to the Erector Spinae muscles
The Spinalis, Longissimus and Iliocostalis muscles are situated underneath the Rhomboid muscles and are often involved with strains.
I find that this is particularly true if you are have a twisted spine.
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.
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.
If you suspect a rib injury, please visit your doctor and ask for a X-ray straight away.
16. Common questions:
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.
It is better to fix this problem now rather than letting it become a bigger problem in the future.
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.
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!