How To Release Your Upper Ribs For A Deep Full Breath, Less Pain, And More Energy

Simple Release For Upper Ribs Helps With Deeper Breathing

Today's episode reveals how to get a full deep breath by releasing your upper ribs and scalene muscles.

Better oxygenation means less pain and more energy. 

So watch the short video for a self test to see if you are "over breathing" or creating the phenomenon called "respiratory alkalosis" which causes your oxygen to stay in your blood instead of being delivered to the tissues for energy!

The simple technique shown will also help you release your scalene muscles and upper ribs to start eliminating the trigger points that can cause:

– hand and wrist pain that can mimic carpal tunnel syndrome

– elbow pain that can mimic tennis elbow or golfer's elbow

– shoulder pain that can mimic rotator cuff tendonitis, arthritis, and bursitis

– chest pain that can mimic heart problems

– upper back pain and more!

As always…leave me a comment and tell me how this feels or what it does for you.  You can leave questions for me as well! (I often use questions as fodder for upcoming episodes)

If you like this content, there's TONS MORE actionable strategies in the Core Wellness Institute



    • No, it’s not normal, Shawn. It may be because you are used to breathing up high in your chest to oxygenate and when you are forced to expand your lower ribs to breathe you’re not getting as much oxygen.

      It could also be because you are being too aggressive. Go VERY easy with the pressure from your hands and just do a few releases at a time. Oxygenate fully however you need to if you feel dizzy at all.

  1. You always seem to have the perfect solution for what has been ailing me. I have been working hard at opening my shoulders in yoga and I have been doing a lot of 15-mile hikes with sticks. I thought I should be breathing much more easily but it has been the reverse. As I watched your video and pressed in on the scalene muscles, I realized that they are completely contracted [i.e. they hurt like h***]. I am going to spend some time today doing pressure point work on those scalene muscles. 
    Thank you so much Dr. Steve!!!!! —-Jackie Levy, Los Angeles

    • Yes, they can be very tender. Be gentle with them. They respond very nicely to easy work. Be sure to remember to make space at the base of your skull during the release to keep the neck retracted. Just get tall!

  2. This time I’m confused! MY hands don’t go up when I inhale, nor do they descend when I exhale. No movement except below the chest. What am I doing wrong?

    • The upward movement can be subtle unless you are a full out chest breather where your whole chest moves up and down.

      the upper ribs should sort of “roll back” at the end of a deep inhale.

      The more important piece is to get a full exhale. Your upper chest muscles might be restricting this rib descent. Go ahead and gently guide them downward as you exhale to mobilize them then you should start feeling them fall more easily.

  3. Great Stuff Steve! I feel more grounded already. Have your experimented at all with strapping techniques for releasing chest tension? Essentially, you just place a strap firmly around a patient’s chest and they breath into it, for 1 breath, then you release it. I’ve had pretty profound results using this method. It is taught by Michael White, on the Optimal Breathing website.

    • I forgot to mention, but obviously move the strap around to different levels depending on what gives the most release for the person.

  4. Hi Steve,

    Thank you so much for this. With the intense pain I felt when doing this exercise I think there might be a clue about the relationship between my allergies and back/chest pain. I can't breathe out of my nose most of the time and when I do try to (at night), I'm often pulling for air through a narrowed passageway. All these muscles of the neck and clavicle area seem to be involved in that (because they feel sore in the mornings). My shoulders roll forward significantly and I have never been able to get them to go back. I also have frequent sprains in my spine leading to a pattern in which sometimes an xray will reveal scoliosis and sometimes it won't. Doctors have mostly attributed this to "ligament laxity" given my former life as a ballet dancer. I think maybe if I could release this area between the collarbone and the ribs it would help a lot with both issues. I'll keep working with this video but if you have any thoughts I'd love to hear them!

    all best

    • Make sure you incorporate "Foam Angels" that you get in the free exercise series when you subscribe to the blog at the top!

      That should help with the rolled forward shoulders.

  5. Hi Dr. Steve,
    I liked this one a lot.
    I have a very tence right shoulder from a motor acsident, and working a lot to try to make it better.
    less tenced and more flexible.

    this is a nice extra awareness exersice, thanks a lot.

  6. Thank you so much! This is my problem area. You are always so generous with your knowledge. I truly appreciate all you teach. May God continue to bless you with the talents you have. 🙂

  7. It never ceases to amaze me, how by watching your video’s I can discover parts of my body I have lost a mental connection with.

    Immediately after doing the self release on the scalene muscles, I could feel my body began to relax. The instant relaxation reminded me of the immediate release from pain I got when I did EFT Tapping for the first time. (Thank you for exposing me to its existence).

    It occurred to me that area is one of the tapping points. I realized also that when I do tapping I breath deeply. I am wondering if part of the reason tapping worked so well to relieve my pain, was that the tapping was a self release and the deep breathing helped my blood become more balanced.

    As a singer I was told a lot about breathing, but I do not ever recall anyone telling me how important it was to exhale.

    I would be very interested in hearing more about the connection between breathing, hemoglobin, and pain.

    I do not understand enough of how it is connected to ask the questions that I have; however, my intuition tells me having a deeper understanding of the things you touched on in this video are very important for me.

    • Definitely deep breathing can make an immediate shift in blood ph so if tapping relaxes you and you breathe deeply…that could contribute to it’s benefit.

      Yes, the breathing connection to oxygen deliver is very interesting. Hypocapnia is what the official search term would be.

      The “Bohr effect” is what the phenomenon is called when hemoglobin holds on tighter to oxygen when the blood starts becoming more alkaline because of blowing off too much CO2 with short chest breaths.

  8. Great breathing exercise. Sometimes something so natural becomes forgotten over time. Thank you again!

  9. This is very interesting to me. I have had shoulder issues for months that popped up after doing Crossfit and using my laptop for several hours a night studying for my MSN FNP. I first noticed levator scap tightness that would remain for days. In crossfit I was doing a lot of kipping pull ups and had developed soreness bilaterally in my infraspinatous and my teres minor. In October the symptoms stopped relieving and I had started having impingement syndrome symptoms. I went to my pcp and was given a cortisone shot and treated for bursitis. The shot had no effect once the lidocaine wore off. I then went to an ortho and setup an arthrogram and he diagnosed me with scapular dyskenisia on my right side which is the shoulder that has the pain. the arthrogram showed no tears in labrum, or the rotators and said there was slight break down of teres minor which could be indicative of over use syndrome. I have done close to 8 weeks of PT and have had some reduction in symptoms. I have quite crossfit for the time being and even weight lifting “chest, shoulders” causes pain in the anterior shoulder and a sensitive teres minor and infraspinatous tendon. I am a full time chiropractor and have some pain when adjusting in side posture or preforming APs adjustments. Today I met with Pavel Kolar when he was in town for a DNS seminar in Shawnee KS and I went to have him diagnose me as a test patient. He determined I had GERD and that my right SI joint gave me issue with out telling him I have pain. MY SI joint had not been acting up that day and I wear foot levelers and that has helped tremendously with my right medial knee pain I would get when it did go out. He determined that I was a chest breather and relied on my chest and upper abdominal for stabilization. However he did not give me any info or a program I should follow. I have been religious about doing my PT exercises and would love to correct this issue that has stripped me from the freedom to do activities that help relieve my stress and keep me healthy. Have you seen this type of issue before in practice and have you treated anything like this before? Any advice or help would be amazing. Thank you

  10. Thank you so much! Been a runner most of my life and had asthma but I’ve always struggled with breathing too much in my chest and not exhaling enough but have struggled to learn out to change the habit. Your technique finally helped me get it!. I have alot of pain under my collarbone when I run and this totally makes sense as to why it happens! The video and technique is really helpful thanks!!

  11. Wow great breathing excersise thank you so much for publishing your knowledge I didn’t know about all this took deep research for me to find this. Posture is very important. Much love.

  12. Interesting. Definitely helps. i know I have very messed up scalene and shoulders. Wrist and hands hurt in this position. Wrists arched a lot.

  13. Thank you! I’ve been suffering with the feeling that I can’t breathe through my nose properly for some time and this really seems to actually help. Does it make sense that it feels like it’s actually opening my nostrils up and clearing a “blockage” there?

  14. Hello, I’ve had a 3 decades long history with trigger points in my back.
    They’ve moved to my anterior chest wall & cause shortness of breath.
    Your technique, along with massage, has helped significantly.
    Thank you.

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