Although there are any number of reasons that people call for remedial massage, probably one of the more common is for pain between the shoulder blades. This can be an isolated pain or it can be in conjunction with neck pain and stiffness or headaches. The pain can be persistent and chronic or it can appear acutely after a particular activity or movement.
Many people will believe that the root cause of the problem lies in the muscles between the shoulders blades, namely the rhomboids. If they book in for a massage then they will expect that the therapist pays particular attention to these muscles and the muscles around the area to reduce the tightness and tension.
However, often the problem is not associated with tightness in the area but weakness. Tightness in other muscles is causing the muscles such as the rhomboids to become irritated because they are over-stretched not because they are overly tight. A massage therapist that tries to eliminate the tightness by stretching and adding length to the muscles may even be adding to the problem.
Often postural professionals will refer this condition with terms such as forward head posture or upper cross syndrome. The pain between the shoulders actually results from the complex interaction of the muscles around the shoulder girdle. It comes about from an increase in tightness in the muscles at the front of the neck and upper chest and weakness with the upper back and back of the neck (technically muscles such as the levator scapula, pectoralis major, suboccipitals, SCM and upper trapezius tend to be tight whereas the lower trapezius and rhomboid muscles tend to be weak).
Typically when you have your posture checked, a therapist would notice that the shoulder blades (the scapulae) are depressed lower than they should be and they are spread apart towards the sides of the body. When the shoulder blades are in this position, the traps and the rhomboids are stretched to their maximum and they struggle to hold the weight of the arms. The force of gravity leads to a constant pulling on the muscles and nerves in the area. The results is pain in and around the neck, between the shoulder blades and even down the arms.
Postural awareness is the first starting point for reducing the impact of upper crossed syndrome or forward head posture. Left untreated it can lead to degenerative changes in the upper back and result in constant neck pain, back pain and contributes to the formation of the Dowager’s Hump and be implicated in TMJ dysfunction.
Massage can help to address some of the issues associated with these problems, in particular by releasing those muscles that are pulling the shoulders blades forward and down. Your therapist can also suggest stretching exercises for the upper chest and strengthening exercises for the upper back.