Chest Wall Deformities

Also known as: pectus excavatum (sunken chest, funnel chest), pectus carinatum (pigeon chest).

What are chest wall deformities?

Conditions that cause physical abnormalities of the chest are known as chest wall deformities. The most common are pectus excavatum (sunken chest or funnel chest) and pectus carinatum (pigeon chest).

Pectus excavatum features a chest that is depressed, while with pectus carinatum, the chest protrudes outward. Combination deformities occur, where one side is depressed and the other protuberant. Some children also have scoliosis as a result of the chest wall deformities, as the boney abnormality of the thorax (chest wall) can be both anterior (in front) or posterior (in back).

What causes chest wall deformities in children?

The precise cause of chest wall deformities isn’t clear. There appears to be some genetic and hereditary component to the disease, although most cases are sporadic (not hereditary). About two thirds of patients have normal chests until puberty starts, and with the rapid growth spurt, then the abnormality becomes visible. The other third have the deformity noted in infancy or early childhood. Some patients have connective tissue abnormalities, like Marfan’s syndrome, whereby pectus deformities are a common component.

What are the symptoms of chest wall deformities?

Some of the common symptoms of having a chest wall abnormality include:

  • breathing difficulty
  • chest pain
  • recurrent lung infections
  • palpitations

Often, the children have no physical complaints, but are concerned instead about the appearance of their chest. They may become introverted and self-conscious, even depressed, about their appearance and the teasing they suffer at the expense of their peers.

What are chest wall deformities care options?

Many chest wall deformities do not require treatment. In moderate to severe instances, surgery can be used to correct the excavatum deformities. For most of the protrusion abnormalities, bracing is used, and no surgery is required at all. 

How can we help your child with a pectus deformity?

The surgeons at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital have over 3 decades of excellence in the treatment of pectus deformities. We have successfully treated over a thousand patients for pectus excavatum, pectus carinatum and combination abnormalities. We were early adopters of the Nuss minimally invasive repair for pectus excavatum, and are nationally and internationally renowned for our expertise. The surgeons can tailor operative and non-operative modalities for children and young adults who suffer from these conditions. For the protrusion anomalies, our expert orthotist, a physical therapist who has dedicated his career to treating children with pectus carinatum, is available to custom build a brace on site at our pectus clinic, made to order for your child.

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Reviewed by: Cathy Anne Burnweit, MD

This page was last updated on: 10/3/2019 1:43:41 PM

Learn more about

Pectus Excavatum

Pectus excavatum, Latin for "hollowed chest," is the most common chest wall deformity. In severe cases, pectus excavatum can affect the heart and lungs, while less severe cases often impact a child's or teen's self-image. Learn more

Pectus Carinatum

Pectus carinatum, also known as pigeon chest, is a chest wall deformity in which the sternum (breastbone) and ribs protrude. It may be caused by excessive growth of cartilage. Learn more

Nuss Procedure

The Nuss Procedure provides excellent long-term functional and cosmetic results for pectus excavatum, making it easier for the child to breathe, while restoring normal chest expansion and proper lung and heart growth. Learn more

Chest Bracing Therapy

Chest bracing therapy is a treatment used in children with mild or moderate protruding chest. This therapy involves using an external brace to reshape the chest into a more conventional contour. Learn more