Causes of Rhomboid Muscle Pain & Treatment Options

Written by Jamie Page
Physiotherapist, Salford University
Medically reviewed by Dr Gina Arena
Research Fellow, University of Western Australia
Reviewed on July 21, 2022

Man reaching for his shoulder blade in pain

Rhomboid muscle pain is felt in the upper back areas between the shoulder blades and the spine. It is usually referred to as upper back pain and is typically related to muscle strain and spasm.

The rhomboid muscle connects the spine and ribcage to your shoulder blades, allowing you to retract your shoulders and maintain proper posture.[1]

What are the symptoms of rhomboid muscle pain?

The symptoms of rhomboid pain include tenderness and tightness in the areas between the shoulder blades and spine.[2] In addition, you may feel swelling and muscle knots around the upper back area. In severe cases, you may experience pain when breathing or difficulty moving the shoulder due to pain.

Causes of rhomboid muscle pain

Rhomboid pain is usually caused by an overuse injury to the muscle. Poor posture and prolonged sitting can also stress the rhomboids. Patients with minor muscle pain generally recover within a few days.

Strenuous activities that require repetitive overhead movements, lifting heavy objects and carrying bags can result in rhomboid pain. In addition, overuse injury to this muscle can lead to shoulder and arm pain.

How to treat rhomboid muscle pain?

Rest and taking a break from strenuous shoulder activities can significantly improve your recovery. Physiotherapists recommend the RICE method as a home remedy.

  • Rest: Limit activities that use your arms and shoulders. Give your muscles enough time to rest and recover.

  • Ice: Use ice or cold packs on your shoulder for at least 20 minutes. It is essential to use ice immediately after a muscle strain to help manage the inflammation.

  • Compression: Wrapping compression bandage to the area may help decrease swelling.

  • Elevation: Keep your shoulders and arms elevated just above your chest when lying down or sleeping.

If you are experiencing severe pain, over-the-counter pain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help relieve the pain.

Topical pain relievers may also be used to manage pain with fewer side effects. For example, you can apply gels, creams and cool spray to the affected area to help control the swelling and decrease the pain.

The best treatment for muscle pain is controlled movement and exercise. A physiotherapist will provide you with evidence-based exercises to allow your muscle to recover and prevent injuries from recurring.

Exercises and stretches to relieve pain

Studies have shown that exercises and stretches effectively treat rhomboid pain and prevent it from affecting the quality of your life. Do these exercises gently and listen to your body.

Here are some of the simple and effective exercises to relieve shoulder muscle pain:

1. Shoulder squeeze

  • Sit straight with your arms on your sides.

  • Draw your shoulder blades back and squeeze them together.

  • Hold this position for 6 seconds.

  • Relax and return to the starting position.

  • Repeat for 10 reps.

2. Rhomboid stretch

  • Reach your arms to the centre in front of your body.

  • Stack your hands.

  • Move your arms towards your left side so you can feel the stretch on your right upper back.

  • Hold this position for 30 seconds.

  • Repeat on the opposite side.

  • Do this 3 times on each side.

3. Neck stretch

  • Extend your arms in front of you with your palms facing forward.

  • Inhale and slowly lift your head up and look up.

  • Hold this position for 30 seconds.

  • On an exhale slowly bend your neck and tuck your chin into your chest.

  • Hold this position for 30 seconds.

  • Repeat these movements 3 times. Rest in between each set for 1 minute.

4. Side arm stretch

  • Bring your right arm across your body.

  • Place your left arm under the right arm so that you allow your right elbow to rest on your left arm. Bend your left elbow and use it to stretch your right arm towards the left side of your body.

  • Hold this position for 30 seconds.

  • Repeat on the opposite side.

  • Do this 3 to 5 times on each side.

5. Neck rotation

  • Sit properly with your back straight so that your spine, neck and head are in a straight line.

  • Slowly turn your head to the right side as far as you can without straining your neck.

  • Hold this position for 30 seconds.

  • Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.

  • Do this 3 times on each side.

6. Triceps stretch

  • Raise your right arm with your elbow bend so that the palm of your hands is reaching your left upper back.

  • Use your other arm to slowly pull your elbow backwards.

  • Hold this position for 30 seconds.

  • Repeat with the other arm

  • Do this 3 times on each side.

7. Locust pose

  • Lie flat on your stomach with your arm on your side and your forehead touching the floor.

  • Slowly lift your head, chest, arms and legs as high as possible.

  • Look straight ahead.

  • Hold this position for 30 seconds.

  • Relax and return to the starting position.

  • Repeat for 2 to 3 times.

What is the recovery time for rhomboid muscle pain?

Recovery from a rhomboid muscle injury depends on the severity of muscle strain. Mild cases usually resolve in less than 3 weeks. However, severe strain can take a few months to heal.

The key to optimal recovery from rhomboid muscle pain is a gradual return to movement and activity. Listen to how your body responds to your normal activities after a few days of resting.

It is not advisable to keep your shoulder inactive for a long time. Instead, active movements should gradually be introduced to your routine.

A physiotherapist can help you return to your normal function by allowing you to strengthen your body through tailored treatment plans.

How to prevent rhomboid muscle pain?

Here are some tips to prevent rhomboid pain:

  • Warm up - Always do light warm up activities to help activate your muscles before doing strenuous activities.

  • Use proper techniques - It is best to practice proper techniques to avoid injuries when playing sports.

  • Phase your activity - Give your body enough time to recover from an exercise or sports activity. Rest when you feel tired or sore.

  • Use proper form when lifting objects - Proper lifting techniques allow you to minimise the stress on your joints and efficiently use your muscles.

  • Exercise regularly - This will allow you to keep strong and healthy muscles, preventing injuries.

  • Practice good posture - Sit properly when working on a computer. Avoid rounding of your shoulders and hunching when feeling tired.

  • Move around - Take frequent breaks from your activities and change position. Take a short walk when working on a computer for an extended period. Take the time to stretch and move in your break periods.


Listen to your body. If you experience rhomboid muscle pain, take action before it gets worse. It is advisable to take a break from your activity and let your body rest for a few days.

If symptoms persist, visit a physiotherapy clinic to have your condition checked. They can guide you through exercise strategies to correct muscle imbalances and impairments that cause body pain and restrictions.

Written by Jamie Page
Physiotherapist, Salford University
Published on July 21, 2022
Medically reviewed by Dr Gina Arena
Research Fellow, University of Western Australia
Reviewed on July 21, 2022
Medical reviewers
Last medically reviewed on July 21, 2022 has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.
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