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Internal intercostal muscles

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Attachments, innervation and functions of the intercostal muscles.
Internal intercostal muscles (Musculi intercostales interni)

Internal intercostals are part of the muscles of the thoracic wall located in the intercostal spaces between the ribs. Comprising the middle layer of intercostal muscles group, they complete the intrinsic musculoskeletal shell of the thorax together with the external and innermost intercostals, serratus posterior, levatores costarum, subcostal, and transversus thoracis muscles.

Being located in the intercostal spaces, they share the common functions with other muscles that occupy this space, i.e. external and innermost intercostal muscles; they assist breathing (accessory respiratory musculature), as well as support the integrity of the thoracic cage.

Key facts about the internal intercostal muscles
Origin Costal groove of ribs
Insertion Superior border of immediate rib below
Action Depress ribs during forced expiration;
Support intercostal spaces and thoracic cage
Innervation Intercostal nerves
Blood supply Anterior intercostal, posterior intercostal, internal thoracic and musculophrenic arteries; costocervical trunk

This article will discuss the anatomy and function of internal intercostal muscles.

  1. Origin and insertion
  2. Relations
  3. Innervation
  4. Blood supply
  5. Function
  6. Sources
+ Show all

Origin and insertion

There are 11 internal intercostal muscles, as many as there are intercostal spaces. Every internal intercostal muscle fills an intercostal space by extending between the inferior margin of the superior rib to the superior margin of the first rib below.

Internal intercostal muscles originate from the inferior margin of costal cartilage and inner lip of costal groove. Their fibers course posteroinferiorly and medially to insert to the superior border of immediate inferior rib. The muscle fibers of each internal intercostal muscle fill the intercostal space from the lateral border of sternum to the posterior angle of ribs onto which they attach. At the level of the posterior angle of rib, the fibers of every internal intercostal muscle blend with the internal intercostal membrane, which fills the intercostal space from the angle of rib to the spine

Test your knowledge on the main muscles of the thoracic wall with this interactive quiz.


Internal intercostal muscles are located deep to external intercostals from which they are separated by a thin fascia. They lie superficial to innermost intercostal muscles, which according to some authors, can be observed as a part of internal intercostals. The posterior surface of superior margin of each internal intercostal encloses the intercostal tunnel with the anterior surface of the corresponding innermost intercostal. The neurovasculature of intercostal groove; intercostal nerve, artery and vein traverse this tunnel.

Internal intercostal membrane is continuous posteriorly with the superior costotransverse ligament that supports the costovertebral joints, while anteriorly it is blended with the fascia that separates the external and internal intercostal muscles. Lying between the floating ribs, the 10th and 11th internal intercostal muscles are continuous with the internal oblique muscles of the abdominal wall.


Internal intercostal muscles are innervated by the intercostal nerves of corresponding intercostal spaces. Intercostal nerves are the anterior rami of thoracic spinal nerves.

Blood supply

Vascularization of the internal intercostals is a part of the students’ nightmare called the blood supply of the thoracic wall. Internal intercostals are supplied by the;

The venous blood is conveyed by the anterior and posterior intercostal veins to either brachiocephalic or azygos venous system, which both empty into the superior vena cava.


Internal intercostal muscles are the accessory respiratory muscles. Together with innermost intercostals, they enable forced expiration by depressing the ribs, thus shrinking the diameter of the thoracic cavity and pushing the air out of the lungs. Note that the external intercostal muscles antagonize this function, by elevating the ribs, thus assisting the forced inspirium.

Besides assisting respiration, all intercostal muscles groups mechanically support the intercostal spaces and thoracic cage by constantly being under a certain degree of tension during respiration. In this way they make the thoracic cage more rigid and convenient for the diaphragm to act upon.

Learn more about the thoracic wall muscles with our learning materials.

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