Spotlight Muscle: Rhomboids


I’d like to start off the Spotlight Muscle Series with the number one area of complaint I see as a massage therapist, pain between the shoulder blades. The culprit? The Rhomboids.

The Rhomboid Minor and Rhomboid Major connect the right and left Rhomboids shoulder blades (scapula) to either side of the spine. They are the main muscles used to pull something towards the body and hold the shoulders back in a position of good posture. The Rhomboids often feel knotted, or like golf balls have settled down the middle of your back and can create pain in the shoulders, neck, or ribs.  This pain can be felt as a dull ache, shooting pain, or as a crunchy sensation when moving the shoulders around. Pain is the body’s cry for help. Very, very rarely does the problem go away when we ignore it or treat only the symptoms like applying ice or taking pain relievers.

Why and how 
The Rhomboids are pinnacle to good posture and healthy shoulders. But because so many of us unconsciously practice a rounded forward position with extensive driving, computer work, and side sleeping, the Rhomboids become unable to do their job fully. These activities and many other things we do in front of our bodies put the Pectoral muscles, Biceps, and Upper Trapezius muscles in a short, contracted state. This in turn over- stretches and inhibits the Rhomboids creating imbalance, dysfunctional movement, and ultimately pain.

In order to relax the soft tissue and nerves of a knotted muscle the opposing muscle groups must be relaxed and lengthened, creating the balance between muscle groups that the body craves. That’s not to say that massaging those tense areas isn’t beneficial and oh so satisfying. But for lasting effect on the musculature attention must be given to the opposing muscle groups as well.

How to get relief
To learn mimageore about pain in the Rhomboids and how to minimize the problems associated with it I foremost recommend consulting an Orthopedic Massage Therapist like myself. In the mean time, here are some things you can do to make headway on your own.

1. Lengthen the Pectoral muscles and muscles of the upper arm. See picture to right.
Place one or both arms against the door frame as pictured. Gently push the chest through the doorway, keeping the chin lifted, for 10 seconds. Release the stretch and take a deep breath. Repeat 2 more times without pushing into pain. Relief can also be felt by stretching one straight arm against the doorway and turning away from the outstretched arm.

2. Lean your back against a door frame so that the edge of the frame is between your spine and scapula. Using your body weight lean into the frame to apply pressure to tight and sore spots in the Rhomboids. Apply pressure on one spot for no more than 45 seconds straight and limit spot treatments to two times in a day. It is not necessary to create blinding pain to relieve these trigger points. Go to a level that is uncomfortable, but one in which you can continue to breath. Ideally the sensation will dissipate as you maintain pressure.

ball-in-sockLeaning against a tennis ball, or a lacrosse ball as I prefer, is another way to target knots in the Rhomboids. Place the ball inside a sock and drape it over your shoulder, positioning the ball between the wall and your Rhomboid. Holding onto the loose end of the sock will allow you to easily reposition the ball without worrying about it dropping to the ground. Remember to target one spot for no more than 45 seconds and consciously breath to help reduce the sensitivity of the knot.

3. Strengthening the Rhomboids is imperative to improving posture and lessening the tension that builds up between the scapulae. Any kind of pulling motion, such as pull ups, sitting row, and reverse flies will activate the Rhomboids. Always initiate the movement by pulling the scapulae down and together first and maintain this position in- between repetitions. If the Rhomboids are well developed and engaged regularly they will be able to balance out the over- active Pectoral muscles.


4. Posture checks. Stand perpendicular to a mirror with your arms hanging at your side so that you can see how rounded forward your shoulders are. Instead of jutting your chest out and pulling the shoulders back to get into a good posture, think about pulling the bottom tips of the scapulae down and together. While holding that tension rotate your arms so that your palms face in front of you. Notice how your shoulders move back and your chest lifts naturally. Practice this multiple times a day while seated or standing to help strengthen the muscles that hold your shoulders in this ideal position.


I hope you found this helpful! Check back each month for a new Spotlight Muscle and shoot me any questions you may have! Please know that I cannot diagnosis or treat any condition via internet/phone/email. However I am accepting new clients at The Ahh Spa and you can make an appointment by calling 810-908-0558.

Yes, you need a massage!

Have you had your tires rotated recently? Have you been to the dentist for a cleaning? How about regular check ups for skin cancer signs? These not so fun appointments are preventative measures we take to keep life running smoothly. Without them things can and will go wrong. Maybe not right away but down the road you are certainly looking for trouble. We should be the most vigilant with taking care of our health. Many people do not realize massage therapy impacts your current and future well-being in ways beyond short term muscle relief or stress reduction. It’s time to think of massage therapy as part of your preventative health care regiment.

“BUT… My body doesn’t hurt”


The body is designed to adapt, when one mechanism fails another takes over. This is called compensation and massage therapists can feel where your muscles are compensating for long forgotten injuries, poor posture, and muscular imbalances. Remember that minor pain in your foot that disappeared on its own? Well it didn’t really and soon itwill surface as intense knee pain and you’ll find yourself asking the Orthopedic doctor how your leg could be hurting so bad even though you didn’t do anything to it. Hundreds of thousands of people suffer from low back pain on a daily basis. Almost all will state it came on gradually with no previous injury to explain it. The body tells us through pain that what we’re doing is harmful. How often do we actually listen to the gentle nudging of minor soreness? The job of our brain is to take in all the stimulus coming from around and inside our body. Countless times throughout the day we say, “that’s not important right now” and the brain says OK and drops it. But that minor soreness means something, and when we fail to examine what might be contributing to the pain the internal body must compensate. The muscles and nerves cover for each other and nobody wants to do that for very long. Imbalance in the body always leads to a breakdown. The question isn’t, “am I hurting right now?” but rather, “what am I doing to prevent injury in the future?”

We schedule physician, dental, and eye examines in advance and do so typically without overwhelming pain or symptoms. Maintaining the health of our muscles and joints with preventative care should seem like a logical step, even in the absences of pain. Think of the oil change analogy. We follow a distinct schedule to have the oil changed which keeps the engine running smoothly. It’s something that you know you should do in order to prevent the engine from seizing up in the future. The same holds true for your body. Without regular maintenance, parts will breakdown, systems get stuck in destructive patterns, and sometimes you even have a catastrophic event. The feeling of needing a dental cleaning or needing a massage is not an accurate barometer in the realm of prevention.

Regular intervals of body work have been shown to significantly increase somatic (whole body) and localized relief. Sure seeking a massage once or twice a year “when you really need it” brings immediate relief but it hardly rectifies any problems you’ve developed through your day to day life. Low back pain, headaches, joint soreness, difficulty moving or stretching muscles, routinely lifting heavy objects, and prolonged sitting are all indicators that your body needs consistent therapeutic massage to prevent a complete breakdown.

“BUT… I’m already relaxed”

stressAre you? Consider these two scenarios. Whether you have experienced them or not pay attention to your gut reaction about each one.

You have work deadlines to meet, in-laws are coming to town, you’re constantly rushing from one task to another, children that say they hate you, and worrying if you will ever pay off your $15,000 in credit card debit.

Trouble falling asleep before midnight, utilizing caffeine and sugar to fuel your body throughout the day, not feeling accepted at home or work, lacking motivation to move, create, or learn, constantly fighting allergies, high blood pressure, low back pain, headaches, and arthritis.

A lot of stress going on there. The first list includes outside stress, the second is examples of internal stress on the body. These are consequences of not managing our reaction to the outside stress. They become habitual ways of dealing with life which in turn create more stress on the organs and survival systems of the body.  If we continue to experience internal stress like chronic illness, poor diet, sleep difficulties, or physical pain then you really aren’t as in control as you think you are. Your body will pay the consequences. Maybe not today maybe not tomorrow but issues don’t just go away. They morph and your body compensates over and over until the pain is great enough that one will change.

Making it a priority to regularly slow down and reset will enhance your overall well-being with just a few consistent sessions. Not convinced? Remember our bodies are master adapters, our survival depends on it. But it also puts us out of touch with how our bodies are really holding up. One search on PubMed for the benefits of massage yielded 352 studies. See which resonates with you.

“BUT… I don’t have the time or money”

I wish this was a moot point based on the last paragraph about stress and the importance of self care. Our society has traded in a mantra of self-preservation for that of self-aggrandizing. It is ingrained in American culture, I can’t even say Western culture; our purpose for this life is to become strong, become rich, become the hardest working person in the world. This translates into working as many of the 24 hours a day as possible and never affording yourself the time to recharge. You can only be your best when you are at your best and that includes balancing the demands of life with sleep, physical maintenance, and rejuvenation.

We spend our time and money where our priorities lay. Not what we should be spending our money on, not how much time it takes to do a thorough job, it’s what is most important and gratifying to the individual. To see routine massage therapy as a worthwhile commitment comes down to making your health a priority. How we feel physically and emotionally is a major factor in how far we will go to seek relief. “Getting healthy” can be an overwhelming act. Going to the gym, sticking to a training routine, buying unprocessed food, planning meals, the list goes on! What separates massage from the other ways we take care of ourselves is you just have to show up for the appointment!! Exercising and dieting are important but making such lifestyle changes can feel drastic and require motivation, consistency, planning, and lots of time and money! Want the easiest path? Make massage therapy a priority and be amazed at your internal desire to eat better and move more naturally stems from a greater self-awareness of your body.

Let’s look closer at the cost of massage. Consider one, $70 massage a month for 3 months. This is the minimal stretch of time I personally believe is needed to experience the cumulative benefits of regular massage. Total cost for 3 months $210 plus tips, let’s say $10/massage for a grand total of $240.

$240 over a 90 day period equals: $2.66 a day.  That’s….

food48 ($5) Starbucks specialty coffees (3.7 a week)
30 ($8) fast food meals (2.3 a week)
80 ($3) beers (just 6 a week!)
16 ($15) dinners out (1.2 a week)


These are pretty low weekly averages. I’m guessing the average person spends twice as much each week on at least one of these not so healthy items; things that slowly seeps money from your wallet and hack away at your health.

Your health is worth it. Make your massage appointment ahead of time and schedule around it just like you would for a doctor’s appointment. Reduce some of the money spent on unhealthy habits you are already trying to kick and you’ll be well on your way to a more productive, more grounded, and livelier you!

A first time experience with Cupping Massage

Today I had the opportunity to experience cupping massage for the first time. Cupping massage was recently on people’s radar after watching the summer Olympics in which many of the swimmers displayed large, circular bruises on their shoulders. My Ahh Spa co-worker Lillian was intrigued by the cupping technique and set about learning how to incorporate it into a therapeutic massage.

Many of friends and clients asked me about cupping and although I learned about it in massage school I didn’t know much about the benefits of it. Boldly, I was willing to subject myself to a cupping massage for the good of my clients.


Cupping is performed with suction cups made of varying materials including silicone and glass. The cups are attached to the skin either by manually creating suction or with the use of a specialized vacuum to create a strong effect to the tissue. The suctioning brings blood flow to the area and ultimately to the surface of the skin layers. That is why bruise circles can result from cupping therapy, as modeled by the Olympic swimmers. Aside from increasing blood flow to a tense section of muscle tissue, cupping decompresses the area. This is one way in which it is especially unique because most massage techniques compress the tissue. Think of a cake that is light and airy versus smashed down flat. Compressing and decompressing the body’s tissue can render the same results of relaxing muscle spasms/tension, breaking down adhesions, and decreasing inflammation, but cupping achieves these quicker and with less pressure applied to the source of pain. I can see cupping being especially beneficial to those who do not enjoy deep pressure work.

In my massage Lillian incorporated the silicone cups in with regular gliding strokes on my back, legs, chest, and neck. We had a great dialogue about what I felt, what she could see, and how cupping could benefit Ahh Spa clients. I could feel a tug as she glided across my skin with the cups. When she felt an area of restriction she pressed the cup over it creating suction in which I could feel. I had a handful of cups ‘attached’ to my back at one point and I could discern the muscle tissue that was most tense based on the lifting sensation underneath the individual cups. In some cases I forgot the cups were there as the tissue released.

Here’s the really cool part. I’ve had some neck pain for three days and despite my own massaging, heating, stretching, and trigger point therapy it was persistent. We decided to try cupping the spot right behind my ear where the spastic muscle could be felt. Lillian removed the cup after 5 minutes and was impressed with not only the slight redness of the area but also how raised the tissue appeared. I was impressed with my improved ability to turn my head and how the elusive trigger point had all but disappeared!

cupping technique

after cup removed

I am not one to recommend something that I haven’t experienced success for myself. And up until today I didn’t have an opinion on cupping massage. But hours later my neck still feels loose and pliable. The red circle has disappeared and my usually spastic neck and shoulders feel light and asymptomatic. I am quite impressed with the effectiveness of the cupping therapy and can definitely see a place for it in a therapeutic massage. Try it out for yourself by calling The Ahh Spa and requesting a session with Lillian Madson 812-471-4990.

Massage Therapy: The tip of the iceberg


The goal of this site is to educate and challenge our belief of what massage therapy is and what it can do to heal the body. My hope is your interest will at be peaked and you may consider therapeutic massage as  a viable treatment.

Without getting too hung up on terminology, let’s run with the defintion that massage is a general, Swedish massage with the goal of relaxing the mind and nervous system. Much of this calm state is enabled by a dark, peaceful environment which all types of massage can occur in. Relaxation is almost always a byproduct of massage as long as the client is a willing participant. Therapeutic massage is performed with the intention of relieving tension in the soft tissue (muscles, fascia, ligaments) of the body and if often classified as “deep” or a “sports massage”. Although most therapists understand what the client is asking for, these terms are not true descriptors of therapeutic massage. Pressure is always a variable in any type of massage and should not be confused with therapeutic massages’ ability to affect the deep tissues of the body. Therapeutic work often includes stretching and positional release, as well as trigger point therapy. Unless you are just about to participate in a sporting event, namely endurance races, you don’t really want a sports massage. This modality consists of rapid kneeding, twisting, compressing, and shaking of the muscles. It is not relaxing and is meant to warm up the tissue and stimulate the nervous system in anticipation of performance. The terminology, sports massage has been thrown around and watered down enough that massage therapists know that you are actually seeking therapeutic work when requesting a sports massage.

Aside from these basic terms there are a whole host of modalities with specific techniques and outcomes. One such modality is Orthopedic Massage. As implied by the name, Orthopedic massage focuses on the function of the joints which is directly affected by the muscles and other soft tissue of the body. The hands on work is guided by a thorough assessment of posture, range of motion, gait, and the understanding that the location that pain is felt is not usually the source of the problem. Orthopedic massage can also be labeled Integrated Massage Therapy as the procedure is an incorporation of various techniques to release restrictions and balance the muscles throughout the body. Orthopedic massage is executed in a pain free manner as deeper pressure often creates more tension even if not recognized as ‘painful’.

The most concise description I can give is Orthopedic massage focuses on relieving the cause of dysfunction/painful movement, not just the symptoms. Pain, not resulting from a trauma is often the result of your body compensating for tiny problems over months or years. So often I hear, “it just started hurting out of nowhere”. And though your experience is accurate, the body says I have had enough and now I’m going to make you do something about it. Orthopedic Massage is a great option for athletes and workers that spend their days sitting. Orthopedic Massage can be exceptionally beneficial in the prevention of surgery for frozen shoulder, knee pain, low back pain, and carpel tunnel.

If you’d like to learn more or are interested in a free consultation please reach out by phone, social media, or email.