Yoga Tune Up® Blog

Intercostals: A Story That Sticks To Your Ribs

My manfriend accompanied me on my recent trip to New York City for the YTU Integrated Embodied Anatomy training.

We were both excited – you see, we hail from small town, Canada and we had big plans for our trip to the big city.  However, on the plane ride, my partner, who was on the mend from a long bout with a cold, had a coughing fit and tore an intercostal (one of the small muscles between the ribs). This proved to be completely debilitating.  Our plans came to a screeching halt. The injury prevented him from laughing, stretching, coughing, breathing deeply, and even lying down to sleep.  He described the pain as “like being stabbed in the ribs”. Ouch!

The timing was perfect for exploring the question … Is there something that can be done to strengthen and fortify the intercostals against future injury? I was, after all, in New York to study the practical applications of Anatomy! Could I use my new knowledge for the benefit of another human being?

I put on my thinking cap and got to work. First learning about what the intercostals do.

There are two kinds of intercostals: internal and external.  The internal intercostals assist with exhalation by drawing the ribs downward and decreasing the space of the thoracic cavity.  The external intercostals draw the ribs upward, increasing the volume of the thoracic cavity.

The intercostals are easy to access but sensitive to touch – but you can find them by sliding a finger into the space between your ribs. Then take several slow, deep breaths and any expansion or collapse in the spaces between the ribs.

It is not uncommon for extended runs of sneezing and coughing (hello allergy season!) to result in torn or strained intercostals. But there are things you can do to make these muscles more supple and strong. Yoga Tune Up® to the rescue!

Try the following YTU exercises for strengthening and stretching these small, but important muscles.  If you currently have an intercostal injury, wait until the injury is healed before beginning a strengthening and stretching program – and be sure to move gently and mindfully.

To strengthen the intercostals:
Tadasana with end of exhalation contraction
Tadasana with end of inhalation contraction
Jathara Parivartanasana with end of exhalation contraction
To stretch:

Read about exercises for core strength.

Read more about your diaphragm.

Learn about Yoga Tune Up at home.


About This Author

It was love at first Sun Salutation for Amanda Tripp ... who was introduced to yoga as a teen when her mom brought home a video. Eventually, she sought out living, breathing teachers to help direct and deepen her practice. Her teachers have been inspirational; her yoga practice: transformational. Amanda felt the call to share the healing benefits of practice with others and completed a 250-hour teacher training program at the Yoga Centre of Burlington. Continuing studies led her to the work of Jill Miller and certification as a Yoga Tune Up® teacher. Amanda's classes speak to the body, breath, mind and heart as she guides students toward greater ease of being.

55 Responses to “Intercostals: A Story That Sticks To Your Ribs”

  1. Victoria Ryder-Burbidge says:

    I have been a runner/jogger/shuffler for 30 years and I am very aware of intercostals when they cramp up and make the jog even more challenging. It it good to know that by adding few different variations to movements and breathing techniques I am already doing may help strengthen and lengthen these pesky little muscles.

  2. Mandy McCullough says:

    So naturally as the lovely Amanda Tripp is my teacher, I was drawn to read her blogs :P As I was reading this I remebered having this convo at YBS and her telling this story to me. Thought it funny that this was the FIRST of my readings! thanks for the great info on how to strengthen those intercostals Amanda!

  3. Sarah says:

    Interesting to learn that there are two types of intercostals! I had sore intercostals off and on for years after getting hit by a car and it was so tough to ease the tension. My PT used to press her fingers into them to release, but now I use a YTU ball to help. Thanks for the breathing exercises; I’ll try them out.

  4. Mary says:

    I never would have given these muscles much thought Amanda- thanks for pointing out the relevance of the intercostals! I’m sure injuring these muscles are more common than we think. It’s great to have another reason to focus on our breathing!

  5. Lorraine says:

    I remember injuring the intercostals while I was pregnant and walked my two 120 lbs Alaskan Malamutes. The next day my sides were sore and breathing and moving was painful. I have also been sick and was sore from all the coughing. We are using these muscles repetitively all day without thinking about until they become sore. I like the title, very cute :)

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Jill Miller, Creator of Yoga Tune Up®

After studying yoga, movement, and the human body for over twenty years, I created Yoga Tune Up® as a simple way to restore my body and mind, keeping me balanced and free of pain. Using a specific and unique set of poses, movements and self massage tools, you too can LIVE BETTER IN YOUR BODY WITH YOGA TUNE UP®.


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