Intercostal recession: What are the causes?

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The intercostal muscles link to the ribs. During inhalation, they generally tighten and drive the ribs upwards. Simultaneously, the diaphragm which is a muscle separating the chest and the abdomen, moves lower and the lungs are filled with air.

If there is partial obstruction in the upper airway, air could not freely flow and pressure in this area of the body drops. As an outcome, the intercostal muscles pull sharply inwards which is called as intercostal recession.

It is important to note that intercostal recession indicates that there is something blocking the airways. Pneumonia, asthma and other respiratory ailments can result to blockage. Seek prompt medical care if intercostal recession is present since obstruction of the airways is considered as a medical emergency.

What are the causes?

Severe conditions can result to blockage in the airways and lead to intercostal recession.

  • Respiratory ailments among adults – asthma, pneumonia and epiglottitis
  • Respiratory ailments among children – respiratory distress syndrome, retropharyngeal abscess, bronchiolitis and croup
  • Foreign object aspiration
    The initial step in treatment is to assist the individual with his/her breathing.
  • Anaphylaxis

Management of intercostal recession

The initial step in treatment is to assist the individual with his/her breathing. Oxygen or medications might be given to alleviate any swelling in the respiratory system.

The individual should inform the doctor about the condition particularly the frequency of the recessions and if other signs are present. If the child has been sick or might have ingested a small object, a doctor must be informed.

In case the breathing is stable, the doctor will manage the underlying condition. The measures utilized are based on the condition responsible for the retractions.


Intercostal recession could not be prevented, but you can lessen the risk of acquiring some of the conditions responsible for it.

  • Viral infections can be prevented by avoiding exposure to sick individuals, regularly washing hands and wiping counters or other surfaces.
  • Avoid exposure to potential triggers that the individual is allergic to. This helps lower the risk for ending up with anaphylaxis.
  • The risk for children to inhale a foreign object can be lowered by keeping small objects out of reach and slicing food into smaller pieces that are easier to chew and swallow.

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