Rhomboid muscle pain is dull and achy, but sometimes sharp and is most often caused by a muscle strain. 

In this article, I will discuss causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention so that it doesn’t keep happening to you!

For in-depth exercises with videos to follow please read this article detailing how to improve sharp pain between your shoulder blades.

Alrighty, let’s get started!

Table of Contents

    Key Takeaways

    • There are four rhomboid muscles, two on each side of the spine (rhomboid major and rhomboid minor). 
    • The function of the rhomboids is scapular retraction and assisting with controlling the upward and downward rotation of the scapula
    • Causes of rhomboid muscle pain include muscle strain, nerve compression, and a random occurrence
    • The best way to treat rhomboid muscle pain is through strengthening and muscle activation work. Some range of motion can be helpful too to help relieve pain and discomfort in the short term. 

    What is the function of the rhomboids and where are they located?

    The rhomboids consist of two separate muscles, the rhomboid major, and rhomboid minor. Both are responsible for the action of retraction of the scapula. The rhomboid is innervated by the dorsal scapular nerve and if this nerve is affected, sometimes scapular winging can occur. 

    How many rhomboid muscles are there?

    In total, there are 4 rhomboid muscles (two on each side of the spine). 

    What causes rhomboid muscle pain?

    There are only a few different reasons why you might be having rhomboid muscle pain. I’ll share them below. 

    Rhomboid muscle strains are usually grade I or grade II and generally are due to overuse. If you developed pain that wasn’t from a specific activity it’s likely due to one of the other reasons below. 

    Muscle strain

    Muscle strains are just another way of saying a torn muscle. There are three different types of muscle strains. 

    Grade I Muscle Strain

    A grade one muscle strain is the most common. This does not produce any bruising or swelling and you will likely have pain and discomfort for less than a week. This usually improves on its own and doesn’t require much intervention. 

    Grade II Muscle Strain

    A grade II muscle strain is a bit more involved as there is greater tearing of the muscle. Sometimes there may be some bruising that is associated with this injury and often times you will have symptoms that can last 2-4 weeks. I recommend working with a rehab professional if this is the case. 

    Generally, the differentiating factor between a grade I and grade II strain is the amount of pain and weakness associated with the injury. 

    Grade III Muscle Strain

    A grade III muscle strain involves a large tear that can take several months to heal depending on where the tear occurred, your age, and various other factors. 

    This type of tear will usually result in significant bruising and swelling that takes a long time to completely heal.


    A comprehensive rehab program is usually required for this injury and in certain cases, you may need to undergo surgery to correct this issue. Surgery is generally only required in the instance of severe trauma or if the tendon completely detaches from the bone. This is a very rare occurrence. 

    Nerve compression

    If you have compression of specific nerves you can also experience pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling. 

    The specific nerves that cause this in shoulder blade issues or in the region of the rhomboids are the dorsal scapular nerve, thoracic nerve roots, long thoracic nerve, and upper and lower subscapular nerve. 

    The nerve that innervates the rhomboids is the dorsal scapular nerve so compression on this nerve would be the most closely related.

    Random occurrence

    Now this one can be a bit frustrating. Often times pain is random. It comes and it goes and strikes at the most inopportune time.

    Kind of like your dog throwing up in the middle of the night while the baby is crying… talk about inopportune. 

    But, just as the mess will get cleaned up and the baby will fall back asleep, rest assured that this will likely get better in a couple days or weeks. 

    If you’re also starting to get trouble breathing and feeling generalized body weakness and fatigue, call your doctor immediately as this could be a heart attack. 

    But, other than that (and in most cases it won’t be that), make sure to give it some time, stay moving, and stay positive. 

    If it persists for longer than that make sure to continue onto this treatment section. 

    What is the best way to treat rhomboid muscle pain?

    As I described in this article talking about stabbing pain in the shoulder blade, treatment strategies for muscle strains should primarily be active. 

    This means, focusing primarily on strengthening, muscle activation, and range of motion activities to keep blood flow going to the area and teaching your body that it is safe to move. 

    I detail a complete rehab strategy (with videos) in this article that you should check out.