Overview

The rhomboid muscles are a group of muscles in your upper back. They’re located on either side of your back, between your shoulder blades. They attach the edges of your shoulder blades to your spine.

Pain in the rhomboid muscles can be caused by a few things, such as:

  • sprain: the stretching or tearing of ligaments, which are bands of thick tissue that connect bone to bone
  • strain: the stretching or tearing of a muscle or tendon, which is the tissue that connects muscles to bones
  • spasm: a sudden, intense contraction of a muscle

Symptoms

The pain of a rhomboid injury will be centered in your upper back, between your shoulder blades. The pain may increase when you move or breathe.

In addition to pain, both sprains and strains can cause these symptoms:

A muscle spasm comes on quickly. You’ll feel a sharp pain and tightness in the muscles of your upper back. You might also see a lump under your skin.

Possible causes and risk factors

You can sprain or strain your rhomboid muscles by doing any activities that overwork your back, shoulders, and arms, including:

  • repetitive sports movements, such as throwing a baseball, serving a tennis ball or volleyball, swinging a golf club, or rowing
  • carrying a heavy backpack

Slouching while you work at a desk or computer can also put strain on these muscles.

You’re more likely to strain or sprain the rhomboid muscles if:

  • You haven’t properly warmed up before you play sports.
  • Your muscles are weak because you haven’t exercised or played in a long time.
  • Your muscles are overtired.

Causes of muscle spasms include:

  • staying in the same position for a long period of time
  • overusing the muscle
  • drinking too little fluid (dehydration)

Treatment

The first thing to do when you have a rhomboid muscle injury is to stop the activity that caused the injury. Resting your muscles will give them time to heal. Ask your doctor when it’s safe for you to play again.

See a physical therapist. The therapist can teach you exercises to help you regain strength and movement in the affected muscles. You can also use a foam roller at home to massage and gently work out any knots in the muscles.

To relieve pain from a rhomboid muscle injury, try these self-care measures:

  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen (Aleve, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Place an ice pack under your upper back every 2 to 3 hours. Keep the ice on your muscles for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Ice works best within the first day or so after an injury. It brings down inflammation and numbs pain.
  • If your muscles continue to feel tight a couple days after the injury, or you’re having muscle spasms, put a warm, wet washcloth or moist heating pad on your back for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.

Recovery

How quickly you recover from a rhomboid sprain or strain depends on the severity of the injury. A mild rhomboid injury might get better within a few days. More serious injuries can take weeks — or even months — to fully heal.

To prevent future episodes of rhomboid pain:

  • Always warm up for at least 5 to 10 minutes before you exercise or play sports, and stretch for a few minutes afterward.
  • Take breaks while playing to avoid overusing your arm or shoulder muscles.
  • Use the correct form. Hire a coach or pro to check your pitch, serve, or golf swing to make sure you’re doing it right.
  • Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your workouts and games.
  • Whenever you work at a computer, sit up straight. If you tend to slouch, buy an ergonomic chair and adjust it so that the back of the chair supports your back and keeps it straight.

Complications from rhomboid injuries

It’s important to stop whatever activity caused your rhomboid muscle pain. Continuing to exercise or play sports could worsen the injury.

Outlook and takeaway

Rhomboid sprains and strains will heal with rest and time. Depending on how severe the injury is, it could take days to months for it to heal.

If you injured your rhomboid muscles and the pain isn’t improving, see your primary care doctor or an orthopedic specialist. More severe injuries may need surgery or other interventions to heal.