Did you know you have a Christmas tree on your back?
No, no one gave you a sneaky tattoo last night – don’t panic.
I’m talking about your rhomboid muscles – the thin muscles that line between your spine and shoulder blades.
Rhomboid major (large, bottom) and minor (small, top)
There are two on each side (rhomboid major and rhomboid minor), and because their fibers start at points higher than they finish, a little creative thinking can help you find your Christmas tree (look at the rhomboids on both sides and pretend the spine is the trunk – see it?). While anatomists consider them two seperate muscles, for our purposes, they perform the same tasks – so we’ll talk about them together.
While they aren’t large, rhomboids are important: they help control the movement of the shoulder blade when we reach in different directions and are important postural muscles. They also help keep our shoulder blade attached to our torso – there is actually not any bone-to-bone connection between the shoulder blade and the rest of the body.
Take home message: our rhomboids are important. They are also frequently overlooked. Let’s not do that anymore, ok?
Rhomboids and Posture
While having the ability to activate our rhomboids is important in many ways related to movement and daily life, their role in posture deserves a little more attention. As I have previously discussed, we all sit too much, which can significant impact both our hips and our upper back. We all tend to slouch more than we should, which results in some muscles of the upper torso shortening and getting tight, and some getting long and weak. Since a slouched position pulls the shoulder blades away from the spine and towards the side of the rib cage, and the rhomboids pull the shoulder blades towards the spine when contracting, the constant passive stretch they are under when we slouch leads them to be stretched long, and weak. All the more reason to take good care of them.
Location: Your rhomboids (major and minor) are located between your spine and the inner or middle edge of your shoulder blades. Rhomboid minor stems from the vertebra roughly level with the base of the neck, and at the lowest point, rhomboid major attaches to the lowest inner corner of the shoulder blade.
What it does: When your rhomboids contract, they pull the shoulder blades (anatomically called your scapulae) towards your spine, and also cause the outer corner of the shoulder blade to rotate downwards towards your feet.
If you want to study up on the Latin names, scientific terms, and all the other nerdy stuff, I suggest taking a look at my favorite anatomy website here.
What that means for you: We want our rhomboids working well to help support good posture. This not only helps several of our internal systems stay aligned (skeletal, nervous, digestive, and respiratory systems – these work best when they are aligned correctly!), but also helps us stay pain free through our shoulders, upper back, and neck. How many people do you know that get sore through those areas after a long day at the desk?
A good exercise for your rhomboids: Before we strengthen, let’s make sure the muscles are in good working order. Check out my post on Relief For A Tight Neck And Shoulders for some suggested self-massage techniques for the rhomboids and other areas that affect how much passive stretch they get. Then check back next week, when out exercise of the week will help you to get some strength through these guys!