Editor's Note: When you see these three dots surrounded by a gray rectangle — 1 — you can click on it to get further information about the topic. Click a second time, and the message goes away.
Location of the Trapezius and the Rhomboids
The Trapezius (see the diagram at the left) is a large muscle located in the back, from the base of the head, to the end of the scapula, and then along the spine to almost the middle of the back. 2
The Rhomboids — there is a Rhomboid Major and a Rhomboid Minor — are two muscles on the back that connect to the scapula and the spinal column. The Rhomboid Major is in the shape of a quadrilateral.
Where they Begin and End
As seen in the diagram above, the Trapezius begins at the base of the skull 3 and at the 7th cervical through the 12th thoracic vertebrae. The insertion is long and runs from the scapula to the lateral aspect of the clavicle.
The minor rhomboid begins on the 7th cervical through the 1st thoracic, and the major rhomboid (see in diagram at right) begins on the 2nd through the 5th thoracic vertebrae. Both insert on the medial border of the scapula.
What do they do for us?
- Upper fibres raise the scapula;
- Middle fibres pull in and pull the shoulder blades toward the vertebral column; and,
- Lower fibres lower the scapula if it is fixed in place.
When working alone, the Trapezius will cause lateral neck flexion.
Working together with other muscles, it will help to extend the head and neck.
The minor and major Rhomboids act together with the middle Trapezius fibres to pull the shoulders back. The Rhomboids also stabilize the scapula when the arm is lowered against resistance.
How can these muscles be injured?
Injuries to the Trapezius are usually caused by consistently overusing the muscle, and this can occur even at low intensity, but a lack of exercise can also be a contributing factor.
People who work at a desk all day or continually hold a telephone between their ear and shoulder may find that the Trapezius gets tired and aches constantly.
Since you use your shoulders in many daily activities, the Rhomboids can get over-tired and it’s possible to experience chronic pain in your back as a result.
Exercises for the Trapezius and the Rhomboids
For the Trapezius (remember to choose the weight or resistance band appropriate for your needs):
- Dumbbell Alternating Shoulder Press: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and the torso erect. Grasp the dumbbells with an overhand grip, bend the elbows, and position the weights at shoulder height. Then extend one arm slowly as high as you can go, and return to the shoulder. Repeat with the other arm. Repeat the set as many times as possible or 8-12 times.
- Dumbbell Shrug: Stand erect and place the dumbbells in your hands at your sides (with arms straight), palms facing in. Lift the shoulders and hold for several seconds. Repeat 8-12 times for one set.
For the Rhomboids:
- Resistance Band Seated Row: Sit on a mat, extending your legs straight out in front of you. Make sure your torso is erect. Wrap the resistance band around your feet and grasp the handles or the band at a point where your arms are completely straight. Palms should be face down. Pull the band towards you until your hands reach your waist. Return to the starting position and repeat 8-12 times for one set.
Stretches for the Trapezius and the Rhomboids
To stretch the Trapezius, sit comfortably in a chair with relaxed shoulders and your head in a neutral position. Tuck your chin towards your left collar bone — as far as you can without slouching. You should feel a stretch on the right side of your neck. Hold for a few seconds and then repeat the movement on the other side. Hold each position for 10-15 seconds. Repeat at least three times on each side.
Rhomboids are a little more difficult to stretch and the most commonly suggested stretch involves pulling the arm across the chest in one direction and pushing on it with the other arm. There is some debate about the effectiveness of this stretch for the Rhomboids; therefore, I’m a little leery to recommend it. If you find it difficult, you should stop immediately.
When stretching you can often use a similar movement that you used in a strengthening exercise; simply hold the position longer than you would during a strength exercise, and (of course) don’t use the resistance band or dumbbells.
Other articles about muscles:
- The Abdominals
- The Adductors and Abductors: Muscles in the Thigh
- The Deltoids: The Shape of the Shoulder
- The Erector Spinae: The Spine Muscles
- The Forearm, Elbow, and Wrist
- The Glutes
- The Hamstrings: Back of the Thigh
- The Hip Flexors
- Latissimus Dorsi: The Lats
- The Lower Leg: The Calf and the Shin
- Muscle Cramps and Other Injuries
- Muscles of the Head
- The Muscular System: How it Works
- Opposing Muscles
- Pectoralis Major and Minor: The Pecs
- The Quadriceps: The Front of the Thigh
- Taking Care of your Feet
- The Upper Arm: The Biceps and the Triceps
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.