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What Is Pectus Excavatum? Growing Up With PE, Causes, Surgery, and Exercise

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I have pectus excavatum, and I'm writing this article to help people understand what this condition is, what it involves, and the impact this condition has had on my daily life.

Pectus excavatum is the medical term for a chest deformity. It is sometimes also referred to as pigeon or funnel chest. The chest deformity is distinguished by a sunken sternum accompanied usually with flared ribs. Pectus excavatum will also cause some of the internal organs to be displaced; for example, the heart could be pushed up, down, or more to the left than normal. It is only when the heart is being obstructed or pushed against that the condition requires surgical correction.

There is also an opposite type of chest deformity called pectus carinatum, which is distinguished by a pushed-out sternum and chest.

Causes of Pectus Excavatum

There is much speculation into what the real cause of pectus excavatum is; however, the real reason is still unknown. Some believe it to be poorly coordinated bone structure, and others believe it is related to an overgrowth of bones in birth. Another hypothesis involves a lack of zinc and magnesium in the bones, which could possibly cause them to bend unnaturally.

For me it was simply that both my father and his father also had mild pectus excavatum, and they passed it down to me. I was the only one who inherited it, as it seemed to skip my brother entirely. Genetics is the most common cause of this condition, and if you find you have a slightly sunken sternum, it is likely that someone in your family has the same condition.

Growing Up With a Chest Deformity

The most common effects people with P.E will experience when growing up is low self esteem and a lack of confidence. This is due to being embarrassed to take off your shirt in public, as people will often stare at you and think you're some sort of freak.

As a young kid I experienced this embarrassment. The condition made me appear even skinnier than I actually was. I looked quite malnourished, when in fact I ate like a horse and played basketball 3 times a week.

Looking back on it now, it wasn't actually as bad as I felt it was at the time. You just have to try to not let all the stares bother you and be confident. Who cares if your chest doesn't look like every other sheep. It is unique, and if it's not giving you any real trouble it's something you can definitely live with and be happy.

Severity of the Condition

There are three main levels of pectus excavatum. They are mild, moderate, and severe.

Mild - The sternum is sunken only a little bit and sometimes it is barely noticeable the really mild pectus excavatum usually does not involve flared ribs unless the persons posture is poor.

Moderate - The sunken sternum is obvious when shirtless and often accompanied by flared ribs. The mild and moderate P.E often don't cause any trouble for the person unless bordering on severe.

Severe - This level of pectus excavatum usually requires surgery as the sunken sternum can be quite deep and can be putting a lot of pressure on the heart causing poor blood circulation , pain and difficulty breathing.

Even Billy Zane Has P.E.


Correcting your Pectus Excavatum

Surgery Correction

Many people opt to have the surgery to repair there P.E condition. The most commonly performed surgery is the NUSS procedure where a bar is inserted in the chest cavity and the bar is made in such a way that it will exert pressure outwardly onto the sternum to push the sternum out to the neutral position. This can be a very painful surgery and can take around 3 years to fully recover so its best to have it at a younger age.

The surgery has been performed for around 15 years now I believe and has been very successful but surgery isn't always the option many people use exercise and other cosmetic methods to improve the appearance of there chest.

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Exercise Correction

Many people head to gym to improve there pectus excavatum appearance but there is a big misconception that using weight exercises will help fill in the sunken sternum as this is technically impossible as there is no muscle around your sternum unless you plan on building a greek god like chest.

The main thing people can work in the gym is a way to improve there postures and strengthen there back muscles ( back muscles will be stretched because of the sunken sternum often causing stretch marks on the back). Correcting your posture at the gym or out of the gym will go along way to improving your appearance because as posture improves your ribs and sternum will slowly begin returning to a normal position.

Be sure to check out my other articles on Pectus Excavatum Repair. It has a list of exercises with specific details and images to help you improve your chest appearance. Show me the exercises, Part 1. & Part 2.

Vacuum Bell

Vacuum Bell

Other correction methods

Vacuum Bell - The vacuum bell is a device used to help the appearance of pectus excavatum by using air pressure to pull the sunken sternum outwards. Billy Zane was known to use this device before a photo shoot it works by place a large bell like bowl over your chest then slowly increasing the air pressure inside to pull the sternum forward.

Silicon Insert - Many people use skin colored silicon inserts to cover there sunken sternums to make clothing appear more natural.

Brace/Corset - A posture vest or corset can be used to correct your posture, as well as bring in those flared ribs.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


MoraG on March 07, 2018:

I've been like this since I could remember I don't remember the last time I took my shirt off infront of people other than family. This has become my biggest insecurity been thinking like this since middle school I am now 17 and stI'll am insecure

DM on July 12, 2017:

Thanks for sharing. Great write up.

Our daughter just recently developed it during puberty. Sometimes her chest hurts and other times it doesn't. Is that normal?

Pharmd870 on January 18, 2013:

Very nice site!

VictoriA on January 03, 2013:

Hi, i have this and i 23i just find out. Now i get why im thin with a big belly.If i have the surgery,it can help to make my stomach flat?

Chase on November 25, 2012:

The modified ravitch teqniqe performed at the mayo clinic is number one for pain and recovery if bothering heart and lungs

Chase Hinton on November 25, 2012:

I am currently 22 yrs old Iv had pe my whole life it didn't affect me until now and now its so intense I can barly get threw my days I'm iratated and in constant pain I am trying to get in the mayo clinic for the modified ravitch proceder its going to be tough if your kids have it when there 14 yrs old take them to a surgeon get a ct scan if it is depressing the heart get the much less invasive surgery while ur young it won't be nearly as much trouble and pain

Michael on September 12, 2012:

Hi, I'm 19 and have moderate Pectus Excavatum. I was born with it and have known I had it since about age 5-6. I just recently decided to look it up and figure out what it all completely is. I was just wondering if the fact that I can see my heart beat perfectly in my stomach area is a big problem? Also, I have 3 sets of floating ribs not sure if that is part of this. I also have a problem when I am standing or sitting too long then I lay down and my back has some Excruciating pain, Is this due to my lack of good Posture? Lastly I have been having random bouts of chest pain that occur at any possible time for about 2-5 minutes and it occurs randomly on my chest, sometimes on my left side and sometimes on my right, Is this part of it too? Sorry for all the questions, just trying to find some answers that I can't seem to find online. (Also my breathing has been a problem for years... but didn't kick up until my teenage years which I figure is due to the growth.) Thanks for all the other information though. Was very helpful.

Jayden on May 15, 2012:

I'm 15 and have a moderate case of Pectus excavatum and didn't really know much about it and I'm glade that there are other people I can relate too

Chris on March 26, 2012:

I always wondered why I had so many stretch marks on my back, now I know thanks to your post.

brian on March 20, 2012:

so i have a question that everyone that a lot of people want to know how much will it cost to have PE repaired if you don't have good insurance? Because everyday of my life i cant stand this deformity in the middle of my chest. i love to play football and skate and so much other things i wish i could do. i live in California and the question is..If my Pectus is server will my doctor from the city garentee the surgrey and if my family doesn't have good insurance would i have to keep paying to pay off the cost?

Chris on March 12, 2012:

I wanted to share my story with everyone because this is one of the most helpful PE sites I've ever found.

I'm a 26 year old male and have pectus excavatum that has always caused me problems. I have tried numerous times in the past to get a referral to an expert on the condition to find out what my treatment options are but I am continuously denied. A referral is required by my health insurance provider unfortunately. I have never been given any type of scan other than the x-ray taken when I went to the ER on Wednesday. I have repeatedly requested further testing over the years and I am constantly denied.

I got into my (former) family doctor's office Friday and was flat out denied any type of assistance beyond more pain pills. My problem has been getting worse over the years. It is at the point now where I need some type of intervention from an expert, but without a referral from a primary care physician, I am very much in the dark.

I work out regularly, stretch, do breathing exercises, and a lot of core work. Exercise is the only thing that offers any type of relief. If I go a couple weeks without exercising, my body feels like it got hit by a truck because of the pain in my chest and back.

I really think the problem is that the GPs I've seen simply have no idea what PE is. Friday, my doctor tried to tell me that it wasn't PE, but rather colitis, which I found out was an inflammation of the bowels (thanks, genius). He proceeded to prescribe more pain pills, same old story.