What is a rhomboid muscle strain or spasm?
Your rhomboid muscles are in your upper back, connecting the inner edges of your shoulder blades to your spine. A strain is an injury in which muscle fibers or tendons are stretched or torn. A muscle spasm is an involuntary contraction of the muscle.
How does it occur?
A rhomboid muscle strain or spasm is usually caused by overuse of your shoulder and arm, especially during overhead activities like serving a tennis ball or reaching to put objects on a high shelf. It can also occur from activities such as:
• carrying a heavy backpack, especially over one shoulder
• poor posture, especially from prolonged use of a computer
What are the symptoms?
A rhomboid strain causes pain in your upper back between your shoulder blades and your spine. A spasm feels like a knot or tightness in the muscle. You may have pain when you move your shoulders or when you breathe.
How is it diagnosed?
Your osteopath will examine your back and shoulder and will find that these muscles are tender or tight.
How is it treated?
The injury should initially be treated with ice packs for 20 to 30 minutes every 3 to 4 hours for 2 to 3 days or until the pain goes away. You can place crushed ice (in a plastic bag) or a frozen gel pack on the floor, put a towel over the bag or gel pack, and then lie down with your rhomboid muscles against the ice.
Moist heat can be helpful with chronic or recurrent rhomboid spasms. Put warm, moist towels on your rhomboids for 20 minutes.
Your osteopath may recommend an anti-inflammatory medicine.
Massage is also very helpful. You can do a form of self-massage by putting a tennis ball on the floor, lying down with your rhomboid muscles against the ball, and gently rolling the ball against your rhomboid muscles. You can also purchase a product like a foam roller or a self-massage tool.
Your osteopath may recommend physical therapy. You will be given a set of rehabilitation exercises to help you return to your sport or activity. While you are recovering from your injury you will need to change your sport or activity to one that does not make your condition worse. For example, you may need to run or bicycle instead of playing tennis or rowing.
How long will the effects last?
The length of recovery depends on many factors such as your age, health, and if you have had a previous calf injury. Recovery time also depends on the severity of the injury. A mild rhomboid strain may recover within a few weeks, whereas a severe injury may take 6 weeks or longer to recover. You need to stop doing the activities that cause pain until your muscle has healed. If you continue doing activities that cause pain, your symptoms will return and it will take longer to recover.
When can I return to my normal activities?
Everyone recovers from an injury at a different rate. Return to your activities will be determined by how soon your back recovers, not by how many days or weeks it has been since your injury has occurred. In general, the longer you have symptoms before you start treatment, the longer it will take to get better. The goal of rehabilitation is to return you to your normal activities as soon as is safely possible.
You may safely return to your activities when the muscles are no longer in spasm and you can move your shoulders and arms without pain.
How can I prevent a rhomboid muscle strain or spasm?
Rhomboid strains and spasms are best prevented by warming up properly and doing stretching exercises before activities such as tennis, rowing, or overhead movements.
Rhomboid Muscle Strain or Spasm Rehabilitation Exercises
You may do all of these exercises right away.
Pectoralis stretch: Stand in a doorway or corner with both arms on the wall slightly above your head. Slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders. Hold 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
Thoracic extension: While sitting in a chair, clasp both arms behind your head. Gently arch backward and look up toward the ceiling. Repeat 10 times. Do this several times per day.
Arm slide on wall: Sit or stand with your back against a wall and your elbows and wrists against the wall. Slowly slide your arms upward as high as you can while keeping your elbows and wrists against the wall. Do 3 sets of 10.
Scapular squeeze: While sitting or standing with your arms by your sides, squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for 5 seconds. Do 3 sets of 10.
Mid-trap exercise: Lie on your stomach on a firm surface and place a folded pillow underneath your chest. Place your arms out straight to your sides with your elbows straight and thumbs toward the ceiling. Slowly raise your arms toward the ceiling as you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Lower slowly. Do 3 sets of 15. Progress to holding soup cans or small weights in your hands.
Thoracic stretch: Sit on the floor with your legs out straight in front of you. Hold your mid- thighs with your hands. Curl you head and neck toward your belly button. Hold for a count of 15. Repeat 3 times.
Thoracic side stretch: To stretch your right upper back, point your right elbow and shoulders forward while twisting your trunk to the left. Hold for a count of 15. Repeat 3 times. To stretch your left upper back, point your left elbow and shoulder forward while twisting your trunk to the right. Hold for a count of 10. Repeat 3 times.
Rowing exercise: Tie a piece of elastic tubing around an immovable object and grasp the ends in each hand. Keep your forearms vertical and your elbows at shoulder level and bent to 90 degrees. Pull backward on the band and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Repeat 10 times. Do 3 sets.
James Walsh Osteopathy
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