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