Rhomboid muscle pain occurs between the shoulder blades and spine. It may feel like tenderness around the shoulder blade. Risk factors for rhomboid muscle pain include injury and general overuse.

The rhomboid muscles attach to the shoulder blades, rib cage, and spine.

This article explores rhomboid muscle pain in more detail, including symptoms, causes, and diagnosis. It also discusses treatment and exercises for rhomboid muscle pain.

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The rhomboids are a group of muscles in a person’s upper back. A person has a rhomboid major and rhomboid minor muscle on each side of the upper back.

Along with other muscles, they form the shoulder girdle. The shoulder girdle helps keep the shoulder blade and shoulder stable.

The rhomboid muscles control the movement of pulling back, lifting, and rotating the shoulder blade. These muscles also contribute to arm movement and enable a person to lift their arm above their head.

When a person has damaged their rhomboid muscles, they may experience:

A person could develop rhomboid pain due to the following:

  • poor posture from sitting incorrectly
  • sitting for an extended time
  • overstretching the arm above the body
  • sleeping on one side
  • repeated throwing motions, for example, while playing sports such as volleyball and tennis
  • having an injury
  • repeated pulling motions, for example, from lifting weights

A doctor may first ask a person about how long they have been experiencing pain in their rhomboid muscles.

Next, they may conduct a physical exam, which may involve checking for range of motion. They may also assess the position of the rhomboids and how the shoulder is sitting.

If they suspect any bone abnormalities are contributing to the pain, they may request some imaging tests, such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans.

Treatment depends on the cause of the pain. For example, if a person has a winged scapula, a doctor may initially suggest pain relief medications and physical therapy.

Physical therapy exercises can also strengthen back muscles, such as the rhomboids. Other treatments for back pain include:

In more serious cases of rhomboid damage, a person may need surgery.

The following exercises may help a person with rhomboid pain.

If a person experiences worsened rhomboid muscle pain while doing these exercises, they should immediately, as this may indicate the back or shoulder is under strain.

A healthcare professional can offer further advice about which exercises may benefit someone with rhomboid muscle pain and how to perform them safely.

Squeezing the shoulder blades together

  1. Standing or sitting, drop arms beside the body.
  2. Pull the shoulders back and imagine squeezing a pencil between the shoulder blades.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds.
  4. Relax the shoulders.
  5. Repeat for 1 minute.

Rotating the neck

  1. From a standing or sitting position, ensure the neck is in alignment with the spine and look straight ahead.
  2. Exhale and look as far to the right as comfortably possible.
  3. Breathe deeply for 30 seconds.
  4. Inhale and turn the head back to the center.
  5. Repeat on the left side.
  6. Repeat the entire sequence three times on both the left and right sides.

Side arm stretching

  1. Move the left arm across the body in front of the shoulder.
  2. Bend the right arm, palm facing toward the body, and put the left arm in the crease of the right elbow.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat on the other side.
  5. Repeat five times on each side.

Stretching the rhomboids

  1. Hold or stack one hand on top of the other.
  2. Extend the arms in front of the body.
  3. There should be a gentle stretch between the shoulder blades.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Rest, then hold or stack the opposite hand on top of the other.
  6. Repeat this twice on each side.

Stretching the upper back and neck

  1. Relax the arms and then interlace the fingers in front of the body.
  2. Raise arms toward the chest, keeping the fingers interlaced.
  3. Gently move the chin toward the chest.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Inhale and gently look up.
  6. Exhale and slowly move the chin back toward the chest.
  7. Repeat looking up and down with inhaling and exhaling for 30 seconds.
  8. Gently unlace the fingers and relax for 1 minute.
  9. Repeat this sequence once or twice.

Cow face pose

  1. Start from a seated position and lift the arm toward the head.
  2. Bend the left elbow and move the hand down the back.
  3. Place the right hand on the left elbow and gently pull it toward the head.
  4. Extend the pose by pulling the left elbow toward the head and clasping more with the right hand.
  5. If this is difficult, instead of clasping more with the right hand, loop a rope or towel around the left arm to pull it in more.
  6. Hold for 30 seconds.
  7. Repeat on the other side.

Locust pose

  1. Lie down on the floor, stomach side down.
  2. Bring the arms to the sides of the body.
  3. Relax the feet so the heels turn away from the body.
  4. Bring the forehead to the floor.
  5. Slowly lift the head, chest, and arms to a comfortable point.
  6. To extend the pose, lift the legs.
  7. Keep the neck straight by looking ahead.
  8. Hold for 30 seconds.
  9. Gently release the pose and then repeat it once or twice more.

To help prevent rhomboid pain that can affect the back and shoulders, a person can try the following:

  • exercising frequently to strengthen the back muscles
  • eating a balanced, nutritious diet that keeps muscles and bones strong
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • practicing good posture and not slouching
  • placing a small pillow under the knees if sleeping on their back
  • placing a small pillow between the knees if sleeping on their side
  • avoiding lifting heavy weights without proper training

A person should contact a doctor if their rhomboid muscle pain is causing them significant discomfort or reducing the range of motion in their arm and shoulder.

Consider seeking advice sooner rather than later, as a healthcare professional can suggest exercises and other treatments to help alleviate the pain.

The rhomboid muscles connect to the shoulder blades, spine, and ribcage. Repetitive motions, overstretching, or sitting for an extended time may all cause injury to the rhomboids.

Gentle exercises may help ease rhomboid muscle pain. Other treatments include pain relief medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, and hot and cold therapy.

People should speak with a doctor if they are experiencing severe rhomboid muscle pain or pain that persists with treatment and rest.