Rhomboid Muscles and Your Posture

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

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Rhomboid Muscle Anatomy

The rhomboids are upper back muscles that connect between your spine and each of your two shoulder blades (scapulae). When they contract, they pull your shoulder blades together.

The muscle fibers comprising the rhomboids run on a diagonal. The function of the rhomboid muscles is mainly to affix the scapula against the torso to allow a stable platform/base for the arm to move.

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.

There are two rhomboid muscles. The rhomboid major 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 rhomboid minor is superior to the rhomboid major and inserts on the C7 and T1 vertebrae.

Building Your Rhomboids

The action of the rhomboid is 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.

The action of bringing the shoulder blades together (known as scapular retraction) builds the rhomboids in such a way as to support the upper back. So if you are looking to either improve or prevent a posture problem, or you have mild, muscle-related upper back and/or neck pain, 10 to 15 repetitions (reps) of this action performed one to three times every day may help.

But if you have a serious medical condition that affects your posture, consult with your primary care provider and work in conjunction with a physical therapist to formulate an exercise 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.

Overstretched Rhomboid Muscles

Being upright creatures, 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. Older people may stoop, in part, because the downward pull of gravity has acted on their spines for a long time.

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 (rounded upper back posture).

In contrast, the soft tissue located in front tends to tighten up and constrict. This includes your pec muscles.

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.

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.

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Article Sources
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  1. Yoo WG. Effects of pulling direction on upper trapezius and rhomboid muscle activity. J Phys Ther Sci. 2017;29(6):1043–1044. doi:10.1589/jpts.29.1043

  2. Kang JH, Park RY, Lee SJ, Kim JY, Yoon SR, Jung KI. The effect of the forward head posture on postural balance in long time computer based workerAnn Rehabil Med. 2012;36(1):98–104. doi:10.5535/arm.2012.36.1.98

Additional Reading
  • Kendall FP, Kendall McCreary E, et. al. Muscles: Testing and Function with Posture and Pain. 5th ed. Williams and Wilkins. 2014.