“Down and back, down and back, be sure to push those shoulders down and back!” I’m sure you’ve heard it before. In any gym setting, especially in pole class, this is a common order from the instructor. Always make sure to push your shoulders down…and back…to prevent injury and engage your shoulders. But…why? What’s the big effin’ deal about this weirdly-named muscle that causes your back and neck to ache and throb after a particularly tough upper body workout, and that some find hard to isolate in order to stretch out for some relief?
First off, the rhomboid muscle helps to maintain an upright posture. It’s a skeletal muscle (which means it is connected to bone and helps to move the joints), formed in the shape of a triangle between your upper shoulder blades to help to control your upper shoulder and arms. Awkward or sudden movements (such as bending over or twisting the wrong way), overexertion (such as lifting weights that are a tad too heavy), and also by not properly throwing them back and down while working out can cause sprains and excess muscle tearing (just like any other muscle injury). Also, since many muscles are connected in a complex network where if one gets injured the others work harder to compensate…if you aren’t careful you can do some seriously painful damage to surrounding tissues if you don’t care for a rhomboid injury, continue to use improper form or if you don’t take the time to stretch properly before and after workouts.
But…what happens if it’s already sore? What about those days when you haven’t necessarily injured your rhomboid, but need a little relief from that incessant aching you got after a good, hard week of some inversions and lifts on the pole or upper-body day at the gym? I’m not a physician or fitness specialist of any kind, but this is what works for me. First, one word: ibuprofen (motrin). “Vitamin M” is what the military likes to call it, since they seem to prescribe it for everything from pain after a wisdom tooth pulling or even a common cold. It can help to reduce the swelling and relive some of the pressure the rhomboid might be putting on your spine and nerves. Secondly, ice it! Cold compresses applied for no longer than 20 minutes at a time can also reduce swelling. If it’s injured, you should rest it, but if it’s just slight muscle soreness you should be good to simply do a few targeted stretches to ease the pain a bit.
One simple stretch for rhomboids: stretch your arms out in front of you, placing one hand on top of the other. Carefully and slowly reach forward. You should feel a gentle stretch between your shoulder blades. Slowly bend your head forward and hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds. Repeat a few times. Try not to force your head down too much.
Some other good stretches can be found by simply searching through the internet under “rhomboid stretches”. Here’s another list of some good stretches I came across:http://www.livestrong.com/article/386249-rhomboid-stretches/
You can also just ask your instructor, gym staff or personal trainer for some good upper body and neck stretches as well, since I’m preeeeettty sure they know more about this stuff than I do, and have probably dealt with rhomboid muscle pain and strain on a more common basis than you may think.
So, when you hear that screeching reminder of “down and BACKKK!!”…it’s not because he or she wants to annoy the crap out of you by throwing you random demands. They are looking out for your safety, and may be saving you from some serious back and neck pain in the future. So just do it. Down and back. Stretch properly. And give your instructor a hug for literally “having your back”. 🙂