What to Know About Rhomboid Muscle Pain

Medically Reviewed by Carmelita Swiner, MD on July 07, 2023
3 min read

Your rhomboid muscles connect your shoulder blade to your ribs and spine. If your rhomboid muscles hurt, you’ll feel it in your back and shoulders.

The rhomboid muscles are a large group of muscles in your upper back. They’re made up of the rhomboid major and the rhomboid minor. 

These and other muscles form the shoulder girdle that holds your shoulder blade and shoulder stable. The rhomboid muscles also:

  • Pull back your shoulder blade
  • Lift and rotate your shoulder blade
  • Help you move your arm overhead
  • Help you throw
  • Help you pull
  • Help you rotate your torso‌

You’ll usually feel rhomboid muscle pain as aches or tension in your upper back between your shoulder and your spine. ‌

Symptoms of rhomboid muscle pain may include:

  • Aching pain
  • Stiffness
  • Tightness 
  • Pinching
  • Shooting pain
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Pins and needles
  • Pain with clicking or popping sounds
  • Painful breathing

Pain in your rhomboid muscle or your upper back and shoulders can be caused by many things, including an injury, a strain, or overuse. 

Rhomboid muscle pain can happen from:

  • Bad posture, especially sitting hunched at your computer for too long
  • Rowing motions
  • Pulling motions
  • Repetitive motions 
  • Throwing motions 
  • Pushups
  • Working out your shoulders and back with weights
  • Injury

Some health conditions can also cause rhomboid muscle pain. If you have joint problems in your shoulder, the surrounding muscles might be affected. 

Myositis. This condition can cause muscle weakness and inflammation. It usually shows up first in your shoulders and hips. 

Polymyalgia rheumatica. This is a disorder that causes shoulder and hip pain and stiffness. It typically affects people over age 50. The pain and stiffness may be worse in the mornings and affect both sides of your body.‌

Rheumatoid arthritis. This is an autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to attack your joints. It usually causes a lot of pain and swelling and can lead to joint deformities. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect your shoulders, which might also impact your rhomboid muscles.‌

Osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative bone disease that causes loss of cartilage. This can cause pain and stiffness. You might not have much movement in your shoulder, which can cause discomfort in the surrounding muscles.

A mild rhomboid strain can heal in as little as a few weeks. A more serious injury, strain, or tear can take longer to heal.‌

There are some things you can do at home to help manage your pain:

  • Ice your shoulder
  • Alternate ice with heat packs if there’s no swelling
  • Use pain relievers like acetaminophen
  • Use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Keep your shoulder and arm down 
  • Do gentle stretches
  • Sit up straight 
  • Use a topical pain cream
  • Get a massage‌

You can also try stretching out your muscles with different techniques:

Tennis ball. Lay down on the floor and place a tennis ball under your shoulder. Gently roll your shoulder back and forth across the ball. Change positions and repeat. 

Foam roller. Lay on the floor and roll your shoulder over a foam roller. This will help loosen and massage the muscles.‌

Self-massager tool. You can buy an electric or battery-operated tool to massage your shoulder. Don’t use high settings that might make it too painful.‌

Warm-up stretches. If you are working out or doing sports, you can help protect your muscles by warming up and stretching before and after exercise. If your muscles are sore from a recent workout, allow them to rest and focus on a different set of muscles. 

Taking breaks. If you work at a computer and sit most of the day, take lots of breaks. Stand up, move around, and do some stretches. 

Better posture. Find an office chair that has a tall back and sit all the way back with your shoulders against the chair. Keeping your feet on a stool can also help you keep good posture.

If you have shoulder pain or upper back pain that doesn’t seem to get better, see your doctor or physical therapist. 

If you have any of the following symptoms, see your doctor right away:

  • You can’t move your arm
  • Your shoulder or arm is swollen
  • Your arm or shoulder is numb
  • The pain is suddenly severe
  • You have pins and needles that don’t go away
  • Your shoulder or arm feels hot or cold
  • You feel sick
  • You have a fever
  • You had an accident and you have severe pain‌

These symptoms could mean that you have a more serious problem like a broken bone or a serious muscle tear.