I have noticed a tendency for the rhomboids to be chronically knotted among clients and friends who train. Through my reading I have begun to believe that this is probably due to a muscular imbalance of some sort. My question, then, is whether anyone has recognized this syndrome, identified its causes, and proposed a solution?
Many people make the mistake of stretching the rhomboids to alleviate these knots, but, ironically, that can exacerbate the problem.
Lengthened rhomboids are consistent with rounded shoulders and a forward head. (The chicken or the egg?) This position forces the rhomboids to work constantly against the downward and slightly forward pull of the shoulder girdle and arms.
The Length-Tension Relationship tells us that a lengthened muscle has a diminished capacity to generate force because the actin and myosin fibrils do not overlap enough for optimal cross-bridging.
With a forward head and rounded shoulders, not only are the rhomboids forced to work harder than normal, but they work harder still because they¹re in a lengthened and, therefore, weaker position.
In other words, the rhomboids have to combat the mechanical disadvantage from the forward head/rounded shoulder position AND the physiological disadvantage of the length-tension relationship. Double trouble!
A simple way to screen for potential problems with the rhomboids is by measuring the distance between the scapulae. With your client standing with their arms comfortably by their sides, the scapulae should be around 6 inches apart from each other and equidistant from the spine. A distance much greater than this indicates overly long rhomboids.
Long, weak rhomboids are part of the Upper Crossed Syndrome as described by Vladimir Janda. In addition to a forward head and rounded shoulders, you may also observe cervical hyperextension, elevated shoulders, winged and/or tipped scapulae, and internally rotated shoulders (palms aim backward in standing).
Start by stretching the overactive antagonists and dominant synergists the pec major, pec minor, upper trapezius, and lats. You may also need to stretch other culprits in Upper Crossed Syndrome such as the levator scapulae, SCM, scalenes and subscapularis.
Other lengthened, weak muscles in Upper Crossed Syndrome include the deep cervical flexors, middle and lower trapezius, serratus anterior, and the shoulder external rotators.
You may want to follow-up with Self-Myofascial release using a biofoam roller - see flexibility library.