Rhomboid major and rhomboid minor work similarly to the middle trapezius. In fact, if you have pain between your shoulder blades or some dysfunctional scapula placement, it can be difficult to determine exactly which muscle is the true culprit. Keep reading to learn more about these muscles that could be causing upper back pain or poor posture.
The origin for the rhomboid major is on the spinous processes of the 2nd-5th thoracic vertebrae. (As you might recall, this is very similar to the origin of the middle trapezius.) Its insertion is along the medial border of the scapula, from the spine to the inferior angle. This means that it runs along the edge of the scapula that is closest to the spine, from the bony groove downward.
The origin of the rhomboid minor is very similar to the origin for the upper trapezius. It originates on the lower part of the ligamentum nuchae and the spinous processes of C7 and T1. (The ligamentum nuchae is an intermuscular septum that connect the base of the skull and C7.) Rhomboid minor inserts on the medial border of the scapula right where the spine of the scapula begins.
Both rhomboid major and rhomboid minor have similar actions. They both retract the scapula and help to rotate it downward. When your scapula retracts, it moves closer toward your spine. This is helpful when you pull something toward you.
The other action, the downward rotation of the scapula, is a little more complex. As you raise your arm, the head of your humerus slides into the back of your shoulder socket. There is a point in that range of motion where your scapula has to slide down and out to make room for your arm to continue moving upward.
According to my Flash Anatomy Muscle Flash Cards, “rounded shoulders are both symptomatic of, and exacerbated by, overstretched rhomboids (which tend to get overstretched rather than become too tight).” This may be so, but there are plenty of people who feel pain and tightness in this midback area. Normally, when the rhomboids are tight, people are sore between their shoulder blades.
So, if your rhomboids are overstretched, you have scapular instability as the scapulas protract and round forward. When your rhomboids are tight, you feel pain and discomfort in the area between your shoulder blades.
Restoring or Maintaining Health
If you feel like you have injured either of your trapezius muscles, you should contact your doctor. He or she can order the appropriate imaging, therapy, and medicine to help you recover as quickly as possible. However, if you’re looking for suggestions to maintain the strength and function of this muscle, I have some suggestions.
First, let me say that isolating the rhomboids alone (and not getting some trapezius action) is really tricky. That being said, these suggestion will probably work both the middle trapezius and the rhomboid muscles.
- Any exercise where you retract your shoulder blades will strengthen the rhomboids. Some yoga postures that do this are: Cobra pose, Locust pose, Bridge pose, and several other chest-openers. Some Pilates exercises that do this are: Scapula protraction and retraction and Breast stroke.
- To stretch the rhomboids, practice Eagle pose.
- I also recommend using tennis balls or a lacrosse ball to roll this area. Just in case you want to purchase these items, here are Amazon links to tennis balls and lacrosse balls.
I consulted The Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey. Recently, the book was revised and is in its third edition. This book is a great resource for those wanting an accessible anatomy book.
Also, I consulted my Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards. If you really enjoy anatomy and want a tool to help you locate specific muscles correctly, I highly recommend these flash cards. I turn to them any time a client comes in with pain.
What’s your favorite way to strengthen your rhomboids? Let us know in the comments below.
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