A retraction is a medical term for when the area between the ribs and in the neck sinks in when a person with asthma attempts to inhale. Retractions are a sign someone is working hard to breathe. Normally, when you take a breath, the 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. These muscles cause retractions, which can be seen as the person tries to inhale.