The intercostal muscles are the muscles that connect your ribs. When you breathe, your rib cage must be able to expand to accommodate the movement of your lungs. If your rib cage is tight, the amount of air taken in by your lungs is reduced. Poor posture can lead to tight intercostal muscles. Cough or sneeze to feel these muscles immediately tighten. Stretching exercises, such as yoga poses, can help to improve the flexibility of your rib cage.
Lengthen the Spine
Yoga poses can help to stretch your intercostal muscles, lengthen the spine, release tension in the back and achieve balance between the spine and the ribs. For example, perform the Cat/Cow pose to work your rib muscles. Get down on all fours, aligning your knees below the hips and hands below the shoulders. On the inhalation, raise your head and tailbone, forming a concave curve with your lower back. As you exhale, round your back. Tuck in the tailbone and relax the neck. Repeat this exercise 10 times. Upon completing the pose, exhale and shift your buttocks so it’s about halfway toward your feet. Focus on pulling your upper body toward fully extended arms and your pelvis toward your legs, which will further stretch your rib muscles.
Twist the Torso
Exercises that require the rotation of your trunk are an effective way to stretch your intercostal muscles. For people who practice yoga, their back bends are negatively impacted by a tight rib cage. While the structure of your upper back is suited for twisting, the lower back tends to be tighter. An example of a core rotation exercise is the sitting twist, or Marichyasana C. Bend your right leg up and place your right foot beside your left thigh. Keep your left leg straight. Wrap your left arm around the left knee, taking hold of the left hand with your right hand. As you exhale, press the left side of your rib cage against your left knee. Turn your head and fix your line of sight over your right shoulder.
Stretch the Sides
When you perform side-bending exercises, you’ll stretch your intercostal muscles. The Gate pose will not only lengthen your rib muscles but also stretch your stomach, spleen and liver. Kneeling on a mat, stretch your right leg to the right side and place your foot flat on the floor. Keep your left knee aligned below your hip. Fully extend both arms to the sides, palms turned down. On the exhalation, bend at your waist and lower your right palm to the lower part of your right leg. Stretch and raise your left arm. Each time you exhale, deepen the stretch by reaching lower down the leg with your right hand. Grow aware of how your intercostal muscles pull the ribs down on an exhalation and lift them back up on an inhalation. Switch sides to work the intercostal muscles on your right side and achieve a balanced stretch
Practice Deep Breathing
The deep breathing used by yoga practitioners will naturally stretch your intercostal muscles. When you take in breath into a compressed rib cage, which is concave in shape, you can increase the elasticity of the rib muscles. Lie on your back with knees bent. Place your palms on your ribs and inhale through your nose. Feel your ribs slowly open up and expand. On the exhalation, feel your hands come closer together as your lungs shrink to release air.
- Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy; Gregor Maehle
- Textbook of Medical Physiology; Indu Khurana
- Yoga Journal: Yoga for Scoliosi; Elise Browning Miller
- Science of Flexibility; Michael J. Alter
- Yoga Journal: Parighasana; Barbara Kaplan Herring
- The Rosen Method of Movement; Marion Rosen, et al.
- National Scoliosis Foundation: What Is Yoga?
Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.