How to Treat Rhomboid Muscle Pain

The rhomboid muscle is a muscle located in the upper back between the shoulder blades.

Like any muscle, it can get strained from overuse. The job of this muscle is to pull the shoulder blades together while they contracting.

In short, they play an important role in the stability of your shoulder blades, as well as your posture.

In this article, we’ll talk about the causes of your rhomboid muscle pain and how to treat it.

Symptoms of Rhomboid Muscle Pain

If the rhomboid muscle gets strained, what symptoms will you experience? Here are the most common ones:

  • Tightness
  • Spasms
  • Tenderness
  • Pain

In some patients, the pain gets worse whenever they breath. Usually there will be a chronic, dull discomfort between the shoulder blades.

It may get worse whenever you move and the intensity can increase over time. The pain can be so bad that people can’t to do physical activities like run, jump, or swim.

Bottom Line: If the rhomboid muscle becomes injured, you may experience tightness, spasms, tenderness, and pain between the shoulder blades.

What Causes Rhomboid Muscle Pain?

rhomboid muscle pain

The most common cause of rhomboid muscle pain is overuse and/or tearing. If you strain the muscle, a knot can form, which can cause a lot of pain.

This is frustrating because it limits your ability to exercise and move around freely. Patients may feel pain while running, jumping, and in some cases, walking.

Here are some causes for spasms or knots in the rhomboid muscle:

  • Poor Posture: Do you sit at a desk on the computer for many hours on end? If so, this could be causing your symptom.
  • Overhead Activities: Are you frequently reaching for overhead items? Doing this repeatedly isn’t good for your back muscles.
  • Heavy Backpacks: If your backpack is very heavy, or if you’re carrying it on a single shoulder, this can lead to rhomboid muscle pain.

A less common cause is rowing. People who row tend to use this muscle a lot, and so the chances of a strain are higher.

Now that you understand the potential causes, it will be easier to make it go away.

Bottom Line: Some common causes include poor posture when sitting all day, overhead activities, and hanging a backpack off one shoulder.


Diagnosing a problem with the rhomboid muscle is straightforward: the doctor will palpate the painful area to check for tenderness or tightness.

They will ask you how you got the injury, as well as how long you’ve had it. Finally, they’ll take note of your medical history.

With this information, they should be able to diagnose your rhomboid muscle pain. The doctor might also have you perform range of motion exercises to check the extent of the straining.

By seeing what movements cause pain, they’ll be able to determine the exact muscles that are affected.

Bottom Line: Your doctor will most likely palpate (feel around) between your shoulder blades to check for tightness and/or tenderness.

Treating Rhomboid Muscle Pain

rhomboid muscle treatment

There are several treatment options for people with a strained rhomboid muscle. These include:

  • Rest: By far the easiest and most common treatment option. By resting, you’ll allow your rhomboid muscles to fully recover. During this time, make sure that you’re not doing anything that can damage your muscle even more.
  • Icing: To reduce pain and inflammation, you can apply ice between your shoulder blades. Apply for 20 minutes at a time. Do this several times throughout the day for maximum pain relief. Note, you may need someone’s help for this.
  • Medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include aspirin and naproxen, are effective pain relievers. They are one of the most common treatment options for people with rhomboid muscle pain.
  • Physical Therapy: If the strain is very severe, then physical therapy may be required. This is when a physical therapist rehabilitees your muscles using a variety of exercises and techniques. It can last for up to six weeks.
  • Tennis Ball Therapy: Place a tennis ball on the floor and then lay on it so that the ball is in between your shoulder blades. Now, gently roll up, down, and side-to-side to loosen any knots that might be present in your muscles.

Tennis ball therapy is quick, easy, and something you can try from the comfort of your own home.

Physical therapy, while more effective, costs more and requires that you leave your home.

Your doctor may prescribe a combination of these treatment options until you’re fully healed.

Bottom Line: Potential treatment options for a painful rhomboid muscle include physical therapy, tennis ball therapy, ice, medication, and most importantly, rest.

Healing Exercises and Stretches

Here are some healing exercises/stretches that you can try (Google or YouTube each one for detailed instructions):

  • Neck Rotation
  • Neck Stretch
  • Fixed Bar Stretch
  • Rhomboid Twisting Stretch
  • Bent Arm Stretch

By far one of the more effective ones is the rhomboid stretch.

It’s easy to do and will literally stretch out your rhomboid muscles to remove any knots that might be there.

The straight arm stretch is also quite effective. Simply type these exercises/stretches into YouTube or Google for detailed instructions on how to perform theme.

Below is a video with many helpful stretches that you can try from home:

How to Prevent a Rhomboid Muscle Strain

The best way to avoid rhomboid muscle pain is to avoid straining this muscle in the first place. Starting today, pay attention to your posture.

Poor posture is one reason why people get it. Secondly, warm up before you exercise. Cold muscles are much more likely to become strained than warm muscles.

Throughout the day, take many breaks from the desk. Do some stretches to encourage blood flow and prevent muscle overuse.

Finally, avoid overhead activities like placing stuff on a high-up shelf. Doing this repeatedly can strain your rhomboid muscles.

Bottom Line: The best way to prevent a rhomboid muscle injury is to warm up before exercising, use good posture, take frequent breaks throughout the day, and avoid repeated overhead activities.
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