How To Fix Rhomboid Muscle Pain

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.

rhomboid muscle pain

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.)

The content presented on this blog post is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. It exists for informational purposes only. Use of the content is at your sole risk. For more information: Medical disclaimer.

Symptoms

What causes Rhomboid Muscle pain?

rounded shoulders rhomb 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?

how do i release a tight rhomboid

Instructions:

  • 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.

rhomboid muscle pain stretch

Instructions:

  • 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

a) Ice

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.

b) Heat

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.

Instructions:

  • 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.

exercises for rhomboid pain

Instructions:

  • 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

chest release with ball

Instructions:

  • 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

serratus anterior release rhomboid muscle pain

Instructions:

  • 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

chest stretch for rhomboid muscle pain

Instructions:

  • 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

serratus anterior stretch

Instructions:

  • 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

lat stretch

Instructions:

  • 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.

Thoracic extension

Instructions:

  • 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:

List of Thoracic Spine exercises


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:

shoulder mobility test

Instructions:

  • 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:

shoulder internal rotation

Instructions:

  • 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

strengthening exercises for rhomboid strain

Instructions:

  • 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

rhomboid strengthening exercises

Instructions:

  • 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

Instructions:

  • 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.

Instructions:

  • 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.)

a) Scalene

rhomboid muscle pain trigger point scalene

b) Levator Scapula

rhomboid muscle pain trigger point scalene

c) Infraspinatus

rhomboid muscle pain trigger point infraspinatus

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!

If you want to know exactly how to do this:

14. Fix your Posture!

The following postural distortions will specifically influence the shoulder blade region:

a) Rounded shoulders

rounded shoulders pain between the shoulder blades

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

winged scapula

Check out this post to fix Scapula Winging.

c) Uneven shoulders

uneven shoulders

Check out this post to fix your Uneven shoulders.

d) Thoracic kyphosis

bad posture

A hunched upper back can cause the shoulder blades to slouch forwards.

Check out this post to fix your Hunched back.

e) Twisted spine

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 rounded/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 more elevated and retracted position.

d) 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?

Rhomboid muscle pain after 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.

My Suggestion:

supported side sleeping for pain between the shoulder blades

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!

451 thoughts on “How To Fix Rhomboid Muscle Pain”

  1. Hey Mark,

    When dealing with a rhomboid issue – is this typically a muscle that someone can feel tightness in?

    I’m dealing with what I can only assume is a strained rhomboid – and often I can ‘feel’ if a muscle needs to be rolled out or whatever.

    With this, the pain just seems very deep in there.

    Reply
    • Hey Shawn,

      It is certainly a muscle that people can feel tightness in.

      This is usually due to over-activity of the muscle.

      Other muscles that can cause pain in this area include middle trapezius and erector spinae.

      If you have Rounded shoulder, I would start with that.

      If the tension is mainly on one side, I would think you probably have a twisted torso. In that case, see post: Twisted Spine Exercises

      Mark

      Reply
  2. I picked up my quite heavy son yesterday (120 lbs) while we were fooling around yesterday and put him on my right shoulder. While he was on my shoulder, i felt a pain near my shoulder blade and immediately put him down. Its been a couple hours, and now that area really hurts and my mobility has greatly been decreased. What is happening and is there anything I can do?

    Reply
    • Hey Jake,

      It is hard to say exactly what structure has been involved with your injury without a proper assessment.

      However – since the injury is very fresh, the general guideline would be to apply ice to calm any excessive inflammation, switch to heat 24-48 hours after the onset of the pain, perform very gentle and pain-free shoulder blade rolls, make sure you have full pain-free neck movements.

      Once the initial pain has reduced, you can start to try some of the exercise mentioned on the blog post. If any doubts, I would suggest that you get an assessment from a professional to make sure it is not anything serious.

      Mark

      Reply
  3. Hi I switched from a very old chair that reclined too far back and was lower than the ideal height to a brand new one with appropriate height for my desk and good upright support. I went from constantly being slouched forward or reclined too backward to being able to sit upright. The problem is that my mid back seems to hurt now. I do my best to keep my chest up and shoulder blades back but it still hurts. I am wondering if this is because I went from poor posture to a decent one and now my body is adjusting, or if there’s something wrong with my setup. Going back to my old chair and reclining back with my lower back and shoulders rounded actually makes me feel better though.

    Reply
    • Hey Gibson,

      Assuming that your work station ergonomics is correct, the pain between the shoulder blades may be due to engaging muscles that you aren’t used to.

      If this is the case, gradual exposure to the new posture will eventually allow the muscles to adapt/get stronger. And become pain -free.

      Mark

      Reply
  4. Hello. I enjoyed your article very much!! But am scared to start the exercises as of right now.
    Three weeks ago I had a trial spinal stimulator put in (my Dr put the leads in my upper middle back for issues with my neck), two weeks ago it was taken out. And right away I noticed I was pretty sore especially when I put my chin to my chest. Three days after the leads were taken out I slipped but caught myself on the front side of the couch from totally falling. That night I noticed some more pain. And then over the next few days I started having severe extreme pain under my shoulder blade. I went to er and all they told me was I didn’t have a broken shoulder blade (from X-ray) and I tore the muscle under my shoulder blade. Now the only time the pain is either gone or bearable is when I’m on a heating pad. (And I’m on pain meds that don’t do much).
    Do you think something got messed up, some nerves got screwed up from when the stimulator leads were taken out?

    Reply
    • Hi Gwyn,

      It is very possible that certain structures in the area may have been irritated from the procedure.

      Keep in mind – skin can also cause quite a bit of pain following any invasive surgery.

      It is not that common to tear the muscles around this area. Xray scans will not be able to tell you the quality of the soft tissue.

      If in doubt – it is best to talk to your doctor before commencing the exercises.

      Mark

      Reply
  5. Hi Mark,
    For past 3 yrs, I’ve been suffering with nocturnal left upper back/shoulder blade pain that always occur if I sleep or lay in a supine position for more than 1hr. It feels like a sharp stabbing pain that will wake me up from sleep if I end up sleeping on my back. I can only get about 5-6hrs of sleep when lying laterally on my left side with a pillow behind my back for support and usually wake up with my left ribs feeling achy but is transient and resolves in less than a minute. I’ve seen two MDs, PT, acupuncture and chiropractor but no resolution. I’m 45 yo female, BMI is 22, practice pilates on a reformer about 1 hr a day for 5-6 days a week. I recently started using the ball to release muscle tightness in my shoulders and upper back but still have this nocturnal back pain. I consider myself pretty fit for my age but can’t seem to figure out why I’m having this type of pain that only occurs when I’m resting in a supine position. I’m very impressed with your website and hope you can share any knowledge you have to help me have a restful night sleep that I have missed for the past 3 years.

    Reply
    • Hi Kim,

      Sounds like whatever is causing your pain is position -related.

      Lie supine on the floor. See if your left and right side have the exact same contact points and amount of pressure.

      Is it equal?

      Mark

      Reply
  6. Hi, Mark.
    I’ve had shoulder pain for a long time and now and your exercises have helped me quite a bit.
    But recently, I noticed my arms starting to feel a bit weaker/numb. Probably because I spend so much time at the computer now since I work from home. I feels like someone is stuck in my elbow whenever I extend my arms but I’m pretty sure it’s my shoulders causing the pain.

    Do you know what muscles might be causing this and how I can exercise these muscles?

    Reply
    • Hey Justin,

      Great to hear the exercises have helped you.

      In regards to the numbness/weakness: these sound like neurological symptoms which may suggest some sort of irritation is occurring in the nerves. ( could be from the neck or the actual path way of the nerve in the arm)

      Check out this post: Pinched nerve in the neck to see if that relates to you.

      Mark

      Reply
  7. Hi, Mark.

    I have shoulder blade pain and I noticed a spot that was really tight. Its in the area connecting my shoulder blades to my arm (edge of my shoulders) which is also directly opposite my pecs. Due to the tightness there, sometimes my arms feel a bit numb. I’m not sure what this area is called or what muscles are there though

    Do you have any recommended stretches for there?
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hey Lauie,

      It sounds like you are referring to your rotator cuff (or perhaps even posterior deltoid, teres minor, triceps). There is quite a few muscles there!

      I tend to see a lot of people who injure this area also have rounded shoulders. (Check out this blog post: How to fix rounded shoulders)

      Mark

      Reply
    • Hi Mark, I have a pain in the muscle right next to my right shoudler blade and the pain somehow linked to my right tricep and forearm esp when I’m driving or using the mouse on my computer. What can I do?

      Reply
      • Hey Glenn,

        The most common issues would be:

        1) Posterior line of the arm. This essentially is a group of muscles that start from the back of the neck, the back of the shoulder blade, to back of arm (triceps), to top of forearm (where people get “tennis elbow”), to the back of the hand/fingers. Check to see if you have Rounded shoulders. Placing the shoulder girdle in a better position may help with the other areas.

        How to fix Rounded shoulders.

        2) Pinched nerve. Compression of the nerve in the neck region can cause referred pain down the arm. On top of pain, you might get tingling and numbness.

        If you feel this relates to you, check out this post:

        Exercises for a pinch nerve.

        All the best!

        Mark

        Reply
  8. This seems like it’s going to be very helpful. I’ll be starting these exercises today. Since purchasing a new mattress, my right shoulder blade has been on fire!! I know why. I’m sleeping hunched on my right side. I’m not normally a side sleeper. We bought a new mattress because while sleeping on my stomach, which I normally do, our soft mattress was giving me lower back pain. Though the now former mattress hurts my shoulder blade and neck. I know I need to practice sleeping on my back! Hope this helps release the pain. It literally feels hot and on fire when picking up my little man!

    Reply
    • Hey Elizabeth,

      It sounds like your right shoulder is not used to the side sleeping position (esp if it is getting squashed)

      Just be careful sleeping on the side on FIRM mattress as this can push into the shoulder quite a bit.

      Mark

      Reply
  9. hey mark iv been having posterior shoulder pain like near my rear delt that kinda leads down the tricep brachii area high up. its not sharp it feels like tender and tendinitis almost. so far iv rolled out my scapula muscles and my serratus is tenderish so idk if its a result of weak serratus and poor scapula control but yeah its specifically pain tenderness in the rear delt tricep area near where it would connect into the lat

    Reply

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