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What Are The Rhomboid Muscles?

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Updated October 05, 2011

Question: What Are The Rhomboid Muscles?
Answer:

The rhomboid muscles are located on your upper back. They connect between your spine and your two shoulder blades. When they contract, they pull your shoulder blades together. The muscles fibers comprising the rhomboids run on a diagonal.

This action of bringing the shoulder blades together helps support the upper back. When performed as an exercise (by doing 10-15 reps one to three times every other day or so) pulling the shoulder blades together may play a role in reversing problems such as kyphosis and forward head posture.

If you are looking to either prevent a posture problem such as the two mentioned above, or you have mild, muscle related neck pain, the 10-15 reps one to three times every day (or even less) may work.

But if you already have a medical condition, consult with your physical therapist for an exact prescription as to how, when and how many times to do this exercise. Each person is different, and there’s no one “recipe” for sets and reps when it comes to using exercise for managing back pain.

Your physical therapist may also give you other exercises to help manage or reverse the posture problem you have.

Upper Back Posture 101 Issues – Overstretched Rhomboid Muscles

Being upright creatures, we humans have a unique and challenging relationship with gravity. Basically, gravity is a force that creates a downward pull on the structures of the body, including the spine, head and shoulders. (Ever wonder why older people tend to stoop? The downward pull of gravity has been affecting their spines for a long time, and this may be part of the reason.)

An important key to winning over gravity is to develop the muscular strength necessary to counter this downward effect. It is not enough to strengthen muscles willy-nilly, though. For example, if you lift weights for "beauty," this is no guarantee you’re targeting the right muscles for posture support. Even if you are, you might not be working each targeted posture muscle in the right amount relative to the others and to the overall goal of ideal postural alignment.

For most of us, as gravity pulls us down, the shoulders begin to roll forward and the chest may sink in. The upper back develops a kyphosis, or a hump, if you will.

In terms of the muscles of the upper back, chest and shoulders, the soft tissue located in front tends to tighten up and constrict. This includes your pec muscles. The muscles in back become overstretched. The rhomboid muscles, in particular, are prone to overstretching. Any posture enhancement program worth its salt will address this tendency with scapular retraction exercise, as well as movements that open you up across the front of your shoulders.

Rhomboid Repercussions: Forward Head Posture

To recap, because of the effect of gravity on your posture and spine, your rhomboid muscles are at a risk for overstretching. Overstretched rhomboid muscles have decreased ability to contract, resulting in less support for your upper back and neck.

But that’s not all. As with most things in the body, there’s a cascade of events to consider (and deal with).

Recall that a kyphosis is essentially a hump in your upper back. As the front of your body rounds forward, it drags everything above it forward, too. This includes your head. In turn, this may lead to a condition known as forward head posture.

Forward head posture may lead to soft tissue strain or a kink in your neck. When your head is positioned forward, how will you see what is directly in front of you as you walk down the street, drive or work at your computer? You have to lift up your head. While this arrangement of parts may help you function in the short term, it is not a well-aligned posture for your spine and head.

Technispeak For Rhomboid Muscles

Clinicians look at muscles in terms of their origin, insertion, nerve and action. The origin and insertion are the points where the muscles attach to their respective bones. The rhomboid originates on the thoracic spine -- from the second through the fifth thoracic vertebrae. It inserts on the side of the shoulder blade that faces the spine.

The nerve that supplies the rhomboid muscle with its impulse to move is called the dorsal scapular nerve.

As the name implies, action refers to what the muscle does. The action of the rhomboid is to bring the shoulder blades towards one another in the back, to lift them up (elevate, as when you shrug your shoulders), and to rotate the shoulder blades so they face downward, away from your head.

Source:

Kendall. Muscles: Testing and Function with Posture and Pain. 4th ed. Williams and Wilkins. 1993. Baltimore.

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