Stretch those often forgotten rib muscles to relieve back pain and improve your posture.
Constant sitting (and especially straining your neck to look down while sitting) causes tightness in the front of the ribs and puts stress on the back muscles.
Luckily, you can work towards correcting your posture with a few simple exercises that strengthen your rib cage. Stretching those often forgotten little muscles in between the ribs – called the intercostal muscles – can relieve tightness in the torso and bring the ribs back into proper postural alignment.
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The rib cage has many attachment points to other important muscles, like the neck, abdominals, and upper back. If all these muscles are tight, it can leave you feeling constricted. Take five minutes out of your day to work on your posture and relieve achy muscles with these rib cage exercises.
7 Soothing Rib Stretches
Child’s Pose Side Stretch | 5 breaths per side
Start your gentle stretching by breathing fully into the ribs using this calming side stretch. On each inhalation, focus on breathing into the back and sides of the ribs, expanding on each inhale and releasing tension on the exhale.
- Start on your hands and knees in tabletop position. Bring your toes to touch and send your hips back and down onto your heels. Bring your knees wide and stretch your arms out in front of you.
- Walk your hands over to the right, far enough to feel a stretch on the left side of the body. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.
- Walk your hands through center and then over to the left side. Hold for another 5 breaths.
Note: Sensitive knees? Place a blanket underneath them for cushioning.
Thread the Needle | 3 reps per side
This stretch opens the chest and shoulders, releases tension in the upper back, and increases spinal mobility.
- Come to all fours with the knees wider than hips and hands close together.
- Inhale to reach the right arm up to the ceiling for a twist. Then, exhale to “thread” the right arm down between the left arm and knees, lowering down onto your right shoulder.
- Inhale to reach right back up towards the ceiling and repeat the movement.
- Do 3 reps, then switch sides.
Seated Cat-Cow | 5 reps
You can do this exercise anytime you’re feeling tight in the chest and upper back. It will help expand the ribs, stretching the intercostal muscles in the front and back body.
- Come to a comfortable seated position and interlace your fingers behind your head.
- Inhale to open the elbows wide, lifting your chin and chest towards the ceiling to come into an arch in the upper back.
- Exhale to hug your elbows in, rounding the back.
- Repeat for 5 reps, coordinating breath and movement.
Note: Connecting your breath to your movement can help release tension in the body. This is a great exercise to find this connection. You can also do this exercise standing!
Seated Side Bend | 5 breaths per side
Side stretches lengthen the muscles between the ribs and pelvis, improving mobility. This stretch you can do standing or in any seat – try it at your desk!
- Come to a comfortable seated position.
- Inhale to reach the left arm up above the shoulder.
- Exhale to side bend over to the right, placing the right hand down on the ground.
- Stay for 5 breaths and repeat on the other side.
Sphinx Pose | 5 breaths
The abdominals bring the ribs towards the pelvis. Stretching the abdominals can help relieve tightness and move the ribs back into a neutral position.
- Lie on your belly with your legs hip-width distance apart.
- Place your forearms underneath your shoulders, hands in line with the elbows.
- Inhale to press down into your forearms, reaching your chest forward. Stay for 5 slow breaths, elongating the spine on every inhale and pulling the abdominals in on the exhale.
Note: Focus on breathing deeply to expand the front, sides, and back of the rib cage.
Shoulder Stretch | 5 breaths
We recommend using a yoga strap for this pose, but you can also use a scarf or a towel. Whatever you choose, you’ll stretch open the shoulders and chest, expanding the front of the rib cage. Try to draw the shoulder blades together to open the chest even more.
- Stand with your feet hip-width distance apart with the strap clasped in both hands behind your back.
- Turn your biceps, inner elbows, and palms away from the body coming into what’s called an external rotation.
- Gently pull the strap apart to create a gentle arch in the upper back.
- Hold the stretch for 5 deep breaths, then slowly release.
Note: If you’re flexible enough, you can skip the strap and try clasping your hands behind your back instead.
Rag Doll | 5 breaths
This stretch opens the back muscles and releases tension in the neck. If you want a good stretch in the hamstrings, slowly straighten your legs while hanging in rag doll.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Bend the knees and bow forward at the hips, resting your chest on your thighs.
- Clasp opposite elbows with your hands and take a deep inhale. Exhale release any tension in the neck and back.
- Hang here for 5 deep breaths.
(Your Next Workout: Why These 7 Hamstring Stretches Will Soothe Your Back Pain, Too)