Intercostals are the muscles of the ribcage that run between the ribs and allow, or limit, ribcage mobility.
There are three layers of Intercostal Muscles: External, Internal, and Inner Intercostals.
External Intercostals help with inhalation and lift the ribs. Internal and Inner Intercostals depress the ribs and help with exhalation.
If you ever had a bruised or broken rib, or had the "wind knocked out you" upon falling, chances are your rib muscles had acted rapidly to protect you.
Intercostals contract to protect us from trauma. Occasionally, these muscles remain contracted for longer periods of time and limit the movement of the ribs.
A bruised or broken rib will often heal with some internal scar tissue, which limits the elasticity of these muscles and restricts movement.
After a few of these 'dings' on the ribcage, our freedom of movement and breath may be compromised.
Massage can certainly help with that!
Few massage therapists work on the Intercostals during a typical massage session, although we sure do cover it in massage schools.
A skillful massage therapist can break up scar tissue, mobilize 'stuck' ribs, and help create more space between the ribs. This work can potentially improve posture, get rid of on-going ribcage pain, tightness of breath, and even help reduce anxiety.
In addition to massage, here are two helpful suggestions to mobilize the ribcage.
1. Practice consciously expanding the ribcage on the inhalation, and fully contracting the ribcage on the exhalation.
2. Stretch the ribcage gently. Yoga practice has many postures and stretches that mobilize the Intercostals: Cat and Cow Stretch, Cobra Pose, Bow Pose, and Seated and Supine Twists.