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 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 more 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.
Leaning 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.