Muscle pain is a highly common and unsettling complaint that all of us have encountered at some point or other. However muscle pain in some areas is worse and more common than others and one of the most common and most frustrating is rhomboid muscle pain. Even if you don’t know what your rhomboid muscle is, then it’s probably safe to say that you have still encountered discomfort there at some point or other without being aware.
If you do know what your rhomboid muscle is then chances are this is something you have encountered before to one degree or another and is something that you are probably very keen on seeing the back end of. Here we will look at what rhomboid muscle pain is, how it occurs and what you can do to address it.
Your Rhomboid Muscle
Essentially rhomboid muscle pain is pain that is focused on the upper back just below the neck between your upper shoulder blades and helps to control the shoulders and arms. In other words if you spent a whole day carrying a heavy backpack, then it would be your rhomboid muscle that felt it the next day.
The rhomboid muscle is a very thin muscle that is the shape of a triangle. It is a ‘skeletal’ muscle which means that it is connected to bone and that you use it to move those joints (just like your biceps etc). The purpose of the muscle is to connect the spine to the inner edges of the shoulder blades and to help retain good posture. The pain is then caused by excessive use of these muscles which can be from sport such as playing tennis or golf, from carrying things on the upper back, or from making a wrong movement such as reaching for something heavy off of a high shelf.
What Is Rhomboid Muscle Pain?
Rhomboid muscle pain then of course is pain that is focused on this rhomboid muscle and this can make it difficult to move your arms and can be described as mild-severe upper back pain. Normally what has occurred here is that you’ve torn the muscle through an awkward or sudden movement and that you have pulled it much as you can pull a muscle in your leg. In other cases the muscle might have ruptured, or in unfortunate cases the muscle may be pressing on a nerve and causing pain this way.
Essentially all your muscles are made up of lots of tiny muscle fibers and it is their job to work in unison in order to move the limbs and the joints. These tiny muscle fibers together build up your muscle and so are very strong, but on their own and isolated they are week and relatively easy to tear and this is what happens when you go to the gym. However when bending over awkwardly, or swinging the golf club too violently, or twisting your body, or lifting too heavily at the gym it is possible to accidentally tear too many of these fibers at once resulting in pain and loss of mobility. This is what we call rhomboid pain or shoulder blade pain.
This will usually then also lead to swelling as the body tries to heal itself and that will then cause you to experience more discomfort. In some cases this can also press on a nerve (your spine is full of them) which can result in an even more intense shooting pain that can make movement very difficult.
Immediate treatment of rhomboid muscle pain is to get rest and relaxation. Your muscle tear was created by your body straining against resistance and so to do anything else strenuous will create further tears that will slow down your recovery.
The other thing to do is to try and reduce swelling and it is possible to achieve this in numerous ways, by using aspirin or ibuprofen for instance which will not only address the pain but that will also help to thin your blood and reduce swelling. At the same time you should use a cold compress which could be just a bag of ice. This will help to reduce swelling too, and will also numb the pain – but make sure not to use cold compress for more than 20 minutes at a time or you can start to cause damage.
Once your pain begins to subside you can then help to encourage rehabilitation through gentle stretches and movements and failure to do this is a mistake that can reduce flexibility and prevent full recovery. One example of a gently stretch you can perform is to interlace your fingers behind your back and to gently push them out backward. Another one to do is to hold one arm straight across your chest, then bring it closer in with your other arm so that you feel your back ‘opening out’ across the top. Whatever works, find a way that you can push it just to the point where it slightly hurts and then take it just slightly further so that it’s uncomfortable (but be gentle). This will help you to provide relief and over time it will encourage rehabilitation. Don’t exert yourself though and don’t lift anything heavy or make any sudden moves.
If you are unsure about exercising your rhomboid muscle pain, and if you aren’t healing as rapidly as you believe you should, then you can get guidance on how to rehabilitate the area from a physiotherapist who will provide you with exercises that can help and who will manipulate the muscle directly. Other individuals prefer to use either an osteopath or a chiropractor depending on their own personal preference and beliefs.
Usually your rhomboid pain should recover on its own after 2-3 weeks at which point you will start to find that that you can return to normal activity. If this does not happen, then this is a good time to seek professional advice.
Prevention is better than cure, and once you’ve experienced this rhomboid pain you won’t want it to come back. So how can you avoid this from happening again in the future?
Well first of all, be sure that you always warm up before exercising. This will help to limber up your muscle and improve flexibility and blood flow, thereby preventing a serious injury. At the same time be sure to exercise indoors when it is very cold. Meanwhile train to increase your overall flexibility and your overall strength and this too can prevent future tears. You should also make sure to practice good technique at all times whether that is in lifting, climbing or sports.
Thanks, TM for this great article! I just wasted tons of time searching for something intelligent and helpful. I will rest my rhomboid and pick up soon when it heals!
Good article with plenty of great info. I’ve just torn my rhomboid, so am keen to learn as much as possible to aid in its healing. May I suggest the 'treatment' section have a timeframe for things to do to aid healing? Maybe like day 1, tear; day 2-4 rest; day 3 light stretch, day 4 massage; blah blah; day 14-21 should be better, if not, see a doc?
Thank you, very helpful!
This was a big help for me. About a week ago, my left rhomboid had just healed up, and I headed back to the gym. I was so sensitive about re-injury (which had happened before) that I handled most of the pulley load with my right rhomboid, and subsequently, I injured it. I'm never quite sure what to do about injuries because I hear different things from all the people I ask, but, contrary to my previous experiences with guidance on injuries, this article is concise, intellectual, and it all makes sense to me. With an upcoming wrestling season in roughly a month, I'm so glad that I found this. Thank you.
I learned nothing. I need to stretch, warm up, and not overdo it?
Great article. Some pictures would complement it nicely.
Excellent article. I have been suffering with Right rhomboid pain with neck association (turning of the neck naturally was impossible) for about 10 days now. It has advanced to numbness and tingling down my inner part of my arm ending primarily in my thumb and forefinger area. During a chair message today I learned which muscle it was. She strongly advised me to stretch as well as get regular messages.
Thanks. I now know why I've experienced this pain one too many times. This advice will help.
Excellent explanation clear and to the point!
It was very helpful. I have been in pain for 2 days. I will try to rest the arm and take ibuprofen.
Thank you this is exactly what I have been looking for, simple, understandable, and informative. It answers all the right questions 🙂
Informative and helpful.