Chest retractions

Chest retractions are a sucking in of the skin in between or around the bones of the chest when inhaling. Retractions may occur in several areas of the chest and are a sign of increased use of the chest muscles for breathing. This usually is a sign of difficulty breathing.

As breathing becomes more difficult, areas of the chest where retractions can be seen increase.

  • Mild difficulty breathing may cause retraction in the belly, just below the rib cage (subcostal) and at the bottom of the breastbone (substernal).
  • Moderate difficulty breathing may cause retraction in the same areas of the chest and belly as mild difficulty breathing, but now retraction between the ribs (intercostal retractions) is also present.
  • Severe difficulty breathing may cause retraction in the same of the areas of the chest and belly as mild and moderate difficulty breathing, but now retraction in the neck, just above the collarbone (supraclavicular) or just above the breastbone (suprasternal), is also present.

Last Updated: February 25, 2010

Author: Jan Nissl, RN, BS

Medical Review: David Messenger, MD Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine

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