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Retractions of the chest muscles
Intercostal retractions are the inward movement of the muscles between the ribs as a result of reduced pressure in the chest cavity. The movements are usually a sign of difficulty with breathing.
The chest wall is flexible, which allows for normal breathing. Cartilage that attaches the ribs to the sternum (breast bone) allows free movement of bony structures so that the rib cage can expand and contract.
The intercostal muscles are the muscles between the ribs. During breathing, these muscles contract and pull the rib cage upward, while the diaphragm moves downward. This expands the chest and causes air to fill the lungs.
When the upper airway (trachea) or the small airways of the lungs (bronchioles) become partially blocked, air flow is restricted. As a result, the intercostal muscles are sucked inward, between the ribs. This sucking in of the chest muscles is a sign of airway obstruction. Diseases or conditions that cause restriction of the airway will cause intercostal retraction.
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