How can I stretch my intercostal muscles

Learn how to treat trigger points yourself and how to relieve (chronic) pain.

Free basic course

  • How often and how intensely do you massage?
  • What to do when pain gets worse
  • When and how long to stretch and when to stop?

I answer these questions in Basic course trigger point & fascia 1 × 1.

The intercostal muscles lie between your ribs, help you breathe, and can cause chest pain if they are overworked and develop trigger points.

These are the smallest muscle nodules in the muscles concerned.

However, you can do something against these trigger points yourself. You can get rid of them yourself, namely with a self-massage.

Even if you've never heard of it, please stay with me and don't be unsettled.

On this page I will explain, among other things, how to massage yourself. You will also find out ...

  • what discomfort these muscles can cause.
  • where they are.
  • what functions they have, and
  • how you feel it.

1.1 pain zones

Tension in the intercostal muscles relieves local tension Pain and pressure sensitivity in the area of ​​tension.

Trigger points also cause local chest pain, which can radiate forward.

The further back a trigger point is in these muscles, the higher the likelihood that it will radiate forward.

1.2 Symptoms and restricted mobility

In addition to the pain zones described, other complaints can occur if trigger points are present.

1.2.1 Pain when lying down

You can no longer lie on your side because the muscles are too sensitive and the pain is too great.

1.2.2 Pain on deep inhalation

When you breathe in deeply, you feel chest pains, which are exacerbated by physical activity.

1.2.3 Reduced vital capacity

The intercostal muscles help you breathe. Trigger points can mean that you can no longer tense “properly”.

This leads to the fact that you can breathe less air and your vital capacity decreases.

1.2.4 Restricted rotation and mobility of the thoracic spine

Tension in these muscles can limit the ability of the thoracic spine to rotate in one or both directions.

This is due to your anatomical starting points on the transverse processes of your spine and your function. More on this in the chapters "Origin & Approach" and "Function".

Don't worry if you don't understand. The most important thing for you is to know that it is so and how to loosen the muscles - and you will learn that without any problems.

1.2.5 Pain when extending the arm upwards

Extending your arm upward pulls your ribs apart, stretching the intercostal muscles.

If there are trigger points in the muscles, they can be stretched "unwillingly", which can lead to a painful stimulus that prevents you from stretching your arm upwards.

1.2.6 Pain when bending sideways

The same applies to bending your spine to the side (lateral flexion). Again, the ribs are pulled apart on the side you are moving away from.

The reason why this can lead to pain is the same as in the previous point.

1.3 Differential Diagnoses

Chest pain is usually harmless, but it doesn't always have to be the case. Therefore, see a doctor to rule out more serious illnesses.

The following list shows an excerpt of diseases that can cause pain similar to trigger points in the intercostal muscles.

  • Herpes zoster
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Heart attack
  • tumor
  • Tietze Syndrome
  • BWS radiculopathy

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Learn more

The intercostal muscles can be divided into internal and external muscles.

  • Intercostal muscles externi
  • Intercostal muscles interni

These muscles lie one on top of the other and their fibers cross.

The muscles are located between each space between the ribs. That is, each muscle spans the area between two ribs.

These muscles function as breathing muscles as well as rotators for the thoracic spine.

Breathing: The tension of the intercostal muscles causes the thorax to expand upwards and to the side. They support inhalation by creating a negative pressure (air is drawn into the body).

At rest, only the muscles in the area of ​​the first two ribs are active, which changes as the breathing becomes stronger. Then the muscles in the lower rib spaces gradually become active.

Rotation of the ESPE: The intercostal muscles are also involved in the rotation of the thoracic spine - that is, when you twist your upper body.

For such a rotation, the intercostales externi on one side and the intercostales interni on the other side of the chest become active at the same time.

Free course

Trigger point & fascia 1 × 1

  • How often do you massage?
  • How often do you stretch?
  • When not to massage and stretch?
  • How I Beat My Chronic Pain!

Trigger pointsVarious things can arise in the intercostal muscles.

examples for this are

  • Muscular overload
  • External forces
  • Diseases
  • Trigger points in other muscles

4.1 Muscular overload

A good example of how these muscles can be overloaded is a chronic cough. Constant deep inhalation overstrains the muscles and can develop trigger points.

4.2 External force

(Strong) force or force from the outside on the area of ​​the ribs can lead to the development of trigger points in the intercostal muscles.

  • Hit the chest
  • Rib fracture / broken rib
  • Operations on the ribs - chest area

4.3 Illnesses

Herpes zoster can cause trigger points in the area of ​​the ribs, which often persist even after the herpes has subsided.

4.4 Key trigger points

Trigger points in Pectoralis major often lead to pain in the chest and ribs, which favors the development of trigger points in the muscles of the area concerned.

You can easily feel these muscles by pressing your thumb into the area between your ribs.

This is where your intercostal muscles are located. You can perceive you as more or less soft tissue.

I recommend using your thumb or fingers for the massage.

As a massage technique, you can use ischemic compression, precise massage strokes or the pressure-movement technique.

You can find a very detailed video on palpation and self-massage in my Trigger point online course.

You will also have access to more than 400 videos in which I explain the massage and palpation for all muscles and trigger points presented on this website.

  • Use your thumb to press the area between your ribs at the level where you are troubled.
  • Examine the entire area between the two ribs concerned for sensitive points - from your sternum to the back of the outer side of your chest.
  • Massage each of these points a few times.
  • Swipe your thumb from just before to just behind the point.
  • Move the skin over the muscle and do not stroke it over it.

Trigger points are usually in the middle third between two ribs. They are rarely found further in front or behind.

At the very front there are only trigger points in the area directly next to your sternum. The anterior areas of the intercostal muscles and ribs that do not attach to the sternum are usually free of such points.

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