Retractions are a sign someone is working hard to breathe. The areas below the ribs, between the ribs, and in the neck sink in with each attempt to inhale. Normally, when you take a breath, your diaphragm and the muscles around your ribs create a vacuum that pulls air into your lungs. (It's kind of like sucking liquid through a straw.) But if a person is having trouble breathing, extra muscles kick into action. The use of these muscles results in retractions, which can be seen as the person tries to inhale (breathe in).