Rhomboid Muscles and Your Posture

Depiction of rhomboid muscles on skeleton
Depiction of rhomboid muscles on skeleton. SCIEPRO/Getty Images

Chances are, you've slumped over your work more than once in your life. When you do this, one muscle group in particular, is affected, and not in a good way. This muscle group is called the rhomboids. The rhomboids play a very important role in beautiful posture and a healthy upper back, even when you're away from your desk.

What Are the Rhomboid Muscles?

The rhomboids are upper back muscles that connect between your spine and each of your two shoulder blades.

When they contract, they pull your shoulder blades together. The muscles fibers comprising the rhomboids run on a diagonal.

Rhomboid Action and What It Can Do for You

This action of bringing the shoulder blades together builds the rhomboids in such a way as to support the upper back. When performed as an exercise, bringing shoulder blades together may play a role in reversing problems such as kyphosis and forward head posture.

So if you are looking to either prevent a posture problem such as the two mentioned above, or you have mild, muscle related upper back and/or neck pain, 10-15 reps performed one to three times every day (or even less) may help.

But if you have a serious medical condition that affects your posture, 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 acted on affecting their spines for a long time, and this may be part of the reason.)

For most of us, as gravity pulls us down, the shoulders begin to roll forward and the chest may sink in. The rhomboid muscles become overstretched, which may lead to kyphosis.

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. 

An important key to addressing this is to strengthen your rhomboids, which in turn may help release the pec muscles. The scapular retraction exercise, described above, is one of the best ways to do that.

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 the 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, of course. 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.

Technospeak 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, as we've discussed, to bring the shoulder blades towards one another in the back, as well as 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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