Rhomboid Pain: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

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Rhomboid PainWhen we move our arms, particularly to stretch, we are depending on the rhomboid muscle to be strong and very flexible. Strains and tears in this upper back muscle can cause excruciating pain and completely disable our regular movements. Rhomboid pain is one of the more severe pains to experience, and can be felt just below the neck, in between the shoulder blades. Let’s examine common rhomboid pain causes and learn how to treat and prevent this type of strain.

The rhomboid muscle allows us to move our arms and shoulders and support the action of carrying objects. This thin, triangle-shaped muscle connects the shoulder blades to the spine, assisting in the ability to maintain proper posture.

What Are the Causes of Rhomboid Pain?

Rhomboid muscle pain is the result of the muscles becoming extensively used and overworked over time. The muscle may be compressing a nerve, or fibers may be stretched or torn to the point that movement offers mild to severe pain in the area. This can occur with activities utilizing the arms and shoulders, including:

  • Bending over at the waistline
  • Sitting for prolonged periods
  • Twisting at the waist
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Poor posture
  • Sleeping on one side
  • Working with arms above head
  • Carrying a heavy backpack or purse on one shoulder
  • Rowing motion

What Are the Symptoms of Rhomboid Pain?

Rhomboid pain symptoms are similar to other muscle strains as they can vary from mild to severe, shooting pain that causes the person to stop all movements. Other symptoms to be aware of include:

  • Pain when using arms and shoulders
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness to the touch
  • Discomfort
  • Aches at the shoulder blade region
  • Tightness in the region
  • Pain with deep breaths
  • Shooting pain along the spinal column
  • Deep and intense muscle spasms
  • Radiating pain across the upper back
  • Posture of rounded shoulders
  • Grinding noise at the shoulder blade point during movement

How to Treat Rhomboid Pain

When an injury or damage to the rhomboid muscle occurs, there are several natural home remedies that may be useful for relief.

1. Rest

Resting the muscle from use is the first and best rhomboid pain treatment option.  This refers to avoiding all movements that require the use of this muscle. Keeping the body quiet and at rest will help with any pain and swelling, and allow the fibers to heal.

2. Ice Compress

Using the cold compress of a towel packed with ice will target pain and inflammation of the muscle fibers. Apply the compress several times each day for up to 20 minutes each time.

3. Heat Application

Use a heating pad or a warmed towel to combat muscle knots or spasms. This may help to relax the tension, but should not be used if there is any swelling present.

4. Stretching

By doing a few easy and gentle stretching rhomboid exercises, you will maintain use of adjoining muscles while helping to repair damaged fibers of the rhomboid muscles. This should be done after a few days of resting the muscle and after any pain and swelling are alleviated.

5. Tennis Ball Therapy

You can use a tennis ball or a hard foam roller for releasing any muscle knots causing the pain. Lie back on the floor with the ball between the shoulder blades and move your body up and down and to the sides with easy, gentle movements. This can also be done with the tennis ball against the surface of a wall for those who prefer standing.

The effects of rhomboid muscle strain may last up to three weeks. In more severe rhomboid strains, the pain and swelling can linger and may require professional physical therapy that targets the muscle.

In addition to the treatments, avoid moving in sudden and awkward motions as well as not lifting heavy objects.

Rhomboid Muscle Exercises to Get Relief

When performing the following exercises at home, be sure to use gentle and smooth motions so as not to further damage the muscle.

1. Upper Back and Neck Exercise

Extend arms out in front of your body at the level of your chest. Turn palms forward and interlock fingers on opposite hands. Maintain this position while you tilt your head down slowly until chin touches chest. Hold for two minutes before returning your head to a normal position. You can also slowly move your head up and down instead of holding the position.

2. Neck Tilt Exercise

With hands at your sides, stand straight and slowly tilt the head to one side with your ear parallel to shoulder. Hold for five to six seconds before returning the head to a normal position. Repeat on other side with eight to 10 repetitions on each side.

3. Neck Rotation Exercise

Keep arms at the side and stand straight as you turn your head to one side, stretching the neck so the chin is positioned over the shoulder. Hold for two seconds and slowly turn your head to the other side. Repeat on each side eight to 10 times.

4. Shoulder Blade Stretch

Standing underneath a door frame, place palms on the door frame and lean forward. Then, lean backward and repeat several times.

Preventing Rhomboid Muscle Pain

While we sometimes have rhomboid pain due to sudden and awkward movements, most cases can be prevented with a few guidelines geared towards protecting the rhomboid muscle.

  • Perform stretching and warmup exercises before a workout.
  • Improve muscle strength and flexibility with proper training.
  • Avoid exercising in cold temperatures.
  • Follow proper techniques in exercises and sports.
  • Avoid rounding of the shoulders when sitting or standing.
  • Take frequent breaks from prolonged sitting positions.
  • Avoid or limit activities that call for overhead reaching with the arms.

Rhomboid Pain: Severe, but Treatable

Rhomboid pain can present itself as a dull ache or  a sharp, stabbing pain between the shoulder blades. As it connects our spine to the shoulder blades, any injury or damage can hinder movement of the neck, shoulders, and arms. The use of the arms above the head in repetitive tasks or while supporting heavy loads can lead to this form of muscle pain. Treatment of pain and inflammation may be accomplished with various exercises completed in the comfort of your own home. Like with all injuries, prevention is key and you may be able to prevent rhomboid pain by following guiding principles.

“Rhomboid Muscle Pain: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Exercises, Prevention,” ePain Assist; https://www.epainassist.com/back-pain/upper-back-pain/rhomboid-muscle-pain, last accessed April 13, 2017.
Igor, “Heal Your Rhomboid Strain With 6 Simple Exercises,” Help Your Back, March 26, 2015; http://helpyourback.org/back-pain/heal-your-rhomboid-strain/, last accessed April 13, 2017.
“How To Treat Rhomboid Muscle Pain,” Safe Symptoms; https://safesymptoms.com/rhomboid-muscle-pain/, last accessed April 13, 2017.