BACKGROUND: Chest wall mobility is often measured in clinical practice, but the correlations between chest wall mobility and respiratory muscle strength and lung volumes are unknown. We investigate the associations between chest wall mobility, axillary and thoracic cirtometry values, respiratory muscle strength (maximum inspiratory pressure and maximum expiratory pressure), and lung volumes (expiratory reserve volume, FEV(1), inspiratory capacity, FEV(1)/FVC), and the determinants of chest mobility in healthy subjects. METHODS: In 64 healthy subjects we measured inspiratory capacity, FVC, FEV(1), expiratory reserve volume, maximum inspiratory pressure, and maximum expiratory pressure, and chest wall mobility via axillary and thoracic cirtometry. We used linear regression to evaluate the influence of the measured variables on chest wall mobility. RESULTS: The subjects' mean ± SD values were: age 24 ± 3 years, axillary cirtometry 6.3 ± 2.0 cm, thoracic cirtometry 7.5 ± 2.3 cm; maximum inspiratory pressure 90.4 ± 10.6% of predicted, maximum expiratory pressure 92.8 ± 13.5% of predicted, inspiratory capacity 99.7 ± 8.6% of predicted, FVC 101.9 ± 10.6% of predicted, FEV(1) 98.2 ± 10.3% of predicted, expiratory reserve volume 90.9 ± 19.9% of predicted. There were significant correlations between axillary cirtometry and FVC (r = 0.32), FEV(1) (r = 0.30), maximum inspiratory pressure (r = 0.48), maximum expiratory pressure (r = 0.25), and inspiratory capacity (r = 0.24), and between thoracic cirtometry and FVC (r = 0.50), FEV(1) (r = 0.48), maximum inspiratory pressure (r = 0.46), maximum expiratory pressure (r = 0.37), inspiratory capacity (r = 0.39), and expiratory reserve volume (r = 0.47). In multiple regression analysis the variable that best explained the axillary cirtometry variation was maximum inspiratory pressure (R(2) 0.23), and for thoracic cirtometry it was FVC and maximum inspiratory pressure (R(2) 0.32). CONCLUSIONS: Chest mobility in healthy subjects is related to respiratory muscle strength and lung function; the higher the axillary cirtometry and thoracic cirtometry values, the greater the maximum inspiratory pressure, maximum expiratory pressure, and lung volumes in healthy subjects.