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Top Exercises for Pectus Excavatum

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 19, 2020

Pectus excavatum is a condition in which the breastbone grows inward, giving the chest a caved-in look. Also known as funnel chest or sunken chest, it is found both in children and adults, but it is most commonly noticed when a rapid growth spurt happens during puberty.

The exact cause is unknown but it may be hereditary and is associated with scoliosis and connective tissue disorders. It is more common in boys than in girls.

Pectus excavatum symptoms may include shortness of breath and lower stamina during exercise, fatigue, chest pain, and a fast heartbeat. Because of these problems with fatigue and stamina, it is best to start exercising slowly and gradually increase your activity. 

Exercises to Help Pectus Excavatum

Although there have been very few studies on the role of exercise in remedying pectus excavatum, doctors believe it could help strengthen and reshape the chest. Exercise will not cure pectus excavatum, but it can improve poor posture and may slow progression of mild to moderate conditions. Regular exercise can also lessen problems with breathing or exercise stamina.

The following exercises are aimed at strengthening chest and back muscles. Other exercises and sports such as swimming and running can also improve muscle tone and encourage deep breathing. 

Chest Expansion

The goal of this exercise is to push your shoulders back and promote good posture. 

Step 1: Stand up straight, with your shoulders pushed back. 

Step 2: Breathe in as deeply as possible, pulling your shoulders back as you inhale. 

Step 3: Hold your breath for as long as possible.

Repeat 20 times. Do this every morning and evening. 

Back Straightening

This is a simple exercise that pulls your shoulders back and strengthens your back.

Step 1: Place hands behind your head, fingers interlocked. 

Step 2: Pull your elbows back as much as possible, keeping your head and neck straight. 

Step 3: Bend forward from the hips until your back is horizontal. Hold for 2 to 3 seconds, keeping your head and neck straight. It is important to hold your elbows in the original position and to keep your spine straight.

Repeat 25 times.

Dumbbell flys

The aim of dumbbell flys is to strengthen your chest and back muscles.

Step 1: Lie on the floor on your back. Stretch your arms straight out to either side, with a small weight in each hand. 

Step 2: Keeping your arms straight, bring them together above your chest.

Step 3: Lower your arms slowly. 

Repeat 25 times.

Upper Trunk Extension

This is a simple exercise that focuses on your upper back muscles and helps improve posture. 

Step 1: Lie on your front with one or two pillows under your stomach, and your hands behind your head. 

Step 2: Breathe in and lift your upper body, arching your back.

Step 3: Hold for a few seconds then relax.

Repeat 10 times then take a break, and do another two sets of 10. 

Push-ups

Push-ups help strengthen your upper pectoral muscles and chest wall.

Step 1: Get down on all fours, with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders.

Step 2: Straighten your legs and arms. 

Step 3: Lower your body until your chest almost touches the floor. 

Step 4: Push yourself back up.

Repeat 25 times.

If you're not ready for full push-ups, you start by doing them on your knees as you build up strength. 

Safety Considerations

The appearance of pectus excavatum varies in people, resulting in different postural and chest wall anomalies, as well as symptoms. As a result, not all of these exercises will be suitable for everyone. If any of the exercises cause pain, reduce the number of repetitions or talk to your doctor.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Alaska Pediatric Surgery: “Pectus Exercises.”

Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: “Integrated Physical Therapy Intervention for a Person with Pectus Excavatum and Bilateral Shoulder Pain: A Study.”

The Children's Hospital at Albany Medical Center: “Pectus Excavatum Exercise Program.”

Journal of Paediatric Respirology and Critical Care: “Exercise Therapy in the Correction of Pectus Excavatum.”

Massachusetts General Hospital: “Pectus Excavatum: What You Need to Know.”

Mayo Clinic: “Pectus Excavatum.”

Mayo Clinic: “Pectus Excavatum: Not Just a Cosmetic Concern.”

McMaster Children's Hospital: “Pectus Excavatum Exercise Instructions.”

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