Posture

A Comprehensive Guide to Rhomboid Muscles and Their Functions

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For individuals who sit regularly for work and are slumping forward, can strengthening the rhomboid muscles help prevent posture problems and relieve pain?

Rhomboid Muscles

The rhomboids are a group of muscles in the upper back. A rhomboid major and minor muscle on each side of the upper back forms the shoulder girdle, which, along with other muscles, helps maintain the stability of the shoulder and shoulder blade. The rhomboid muscles control:

  • Pulling
  • Lifting
  • Rotating the shoulder blade.
  • These muscles also contribute to arm movement and enable lifting the arms above the head.
  • The rhomboid muscles support healthy posture and upper back. (Yoo W. G. 2017)

Sitting for an extended time, slumping forward, overstretching the arm above the body, sleeping on one side, repeated throwing motions, and sports like volleyball can affect the rhomboid muscles and cause pain symptoms.

Anatomy

There are two rhomboid muscles. The major originates on the thoracic spine from the second through the fifth vertebrae and inserts on the side of the shoulder blade facing the spine.  The minor is superior to the major and inserts on the C7 and T1 vertebrae. The muscles connect between the spine and each of the shoulder blades. When they contract, they pull the shoulder blades together. The muscle fibers run diagonally. They affix the scapula against the torso, allowing a stable base from which the arms can move.

Symptoms

When rhomboid muscles are overused or strained, symptoms can include the following:

  • Tenderness around the shoulder blade.
  • Limited range of motion in the shoulder.
  • Pain around the shoulder blade.
  • Upper back pain.
  • Neck pain.
  • Arm fatigue when performing repetitive overhead movements.
  • A crunching sound when moving the shoulder.
  • Weakness in the arm.
  • Chest pain.

Muscle Building

The action of the rhomboid is to bring the shoulder blades together, lift them or elevate them, as when shrugging, and rotate them so they face downward, away from the head. Bringing the shoulder blades together or scapular retraction builds the rhomboids to support the upper back.

To improve or prevent posture problems or mild, muscle-related upper-back and/or neck pain, 10 to 15 repetitions of scapular retraction performed one to three times every day are targeted exercises that could be recommended to help strengthen the muscles. However, consult a primary care provider, physical therapist, or chiropractor for serious medical conditions that affect posture to develop a personalized exercise program specific to the individual’s condition or injury. Everybody is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all when incorporating exercise to manage back pain. The physical therapy team may recommend other exercises to help manage or reverse any postural issues. (Kim, D. et al., 2015)

Overstretched Muscles

The human body has a unique and challenging relationship with gravity, which creates a downward pull on its structures, including the spine, head, and shoulders. As gravity pulls, the shoulders roll forward, and the chest can sink in. (Harvard Health, 2022). The rhomboid muscles may become overstretched, or the pectoral muscles and soft tissues in front may tighten up and constrict. Strengthening the rhomboids can help release the pectoral muscles.

Forward Head Posture

Unhealthy posture can lead to chronic pain and back problems. (Kripa, S. et al., 2021) Over time, unhealthy posture can also cause a forward head posture. (U.S. National Library of Medicine Clinical Trials, 2020) Forward head posture can lead to soft tissue strain, a kink in the neck, and fatigue in the muscles holding the head up, which can cause chronic neck pain. Maintaining strong extensor muscles in the lumbar and thoracic spine can help prevent back and neck problems as the body ages.

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We passionately focus on treating patients’ injuries and chronic pain syndromes and develop personalized care plans that improve ability through flexibility, mobility, and agility programs tailored to the individual. Using an integrated approach, our areas of chiropractic practice include Wellness & Nutrition, Chronic Pain, Personal Injury, Auto Accident Care, Work Injuries, Back Injury, Low Back Pain, Neck Pain, Migraine Headaches, Sports Injuries, Severe Sciatica, Scoliosis, Complex Herniated Discs, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Complex Injuries, Stress Management, Functional Medicine Treatments, and in-scope care protocols to relieve pain naturally by restoring health and function to the body through Functional Medicine, Acupuncture, Electro-Acupuncture, and Sports Medicine protocols. If the individual needs other treatment, they will be referred to a clinic or physician best suited for them, as Dr. Jimenez has teamed up with the top surgeons, clinical specialists, medical researchers, and premier rehabilitation providers to provide the most effective clinical treatments. We focus on what works for you and strive to better the body through researched methods and total wellness programs.


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References

Yoo W. G. (2017). Effects of pulling direction on upper trapezius and rhomboid muscle activity. Journal of physical therapy science, 29(6), 1043–1044. doi.org/10.1589/jpts.29.1043

Kim, D., Cho, M., Park, Y., & Yang, Y. (2015). Effect of an exercise program for posture correction on musculoskeletal pain. Journal of physical therapy science, 27(6), 1791–1794. doi.org/10.1589/jpts.27.1791

Harvard Health. (2022). Is it too late to save your posture? Exercise and Fitness. www.health.harvard.edu/exercise-and-fitness/is-it-too-late-to-save-your-posture

Kripa, S., Kaur, H. (2021). Identifying relations between posture and pain in lower back pain patients: a narrative review. Bulletin of Faculty of Physical Therapy, 26. doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1186/s43161-021-00052-w

U.S. National Library of Medicine Clinical Trials. (2020). Strengthening and stretching exercise to improve forward head posture and rounded shoulders. Retrieved from clinicaltrials.gov/study/NCT04216862

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The information herein on "A Comprehensive Guide to Rhomboid Muscles and Their Functions" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Our information scope is limited to Chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, contributing etiological viscerosomatic disturbances within clinical presentations, associated somatovisceral reflex clinical dynamics, subluxation complexes, sensitive health issues, and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions.

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