4 Problems Associated with a Sunken Chest

4 Problems Associated with a Sunken Chest

You may have inherited your mom’s eyes and your grandfather’s hairline — it’s part of what makes you unique. But if you were born with a caved-in chest, it may be more than just a family trait. It can cause some concerning medical issues.

Pectus excavatum occurs when your rib cage grows inward, creating a crater-like formation. It’s a congenital condition that runs in families and can appear during childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. 

It’s a fairly common condition that affects more men than women, and it doesn’t require treatment unless it causes significant physical or psychological symptoms.

At Rockland Thoracic & Vascular Associates, our team of board-certified surgeons specializes in chest wall conditions like pectus excavatum and can guide you through your treatment options. 

Here, we explain the four most common physical problems with pectus excavatum. 

Physical symptoms of a sunken chest

Mild pectus excavatum doesn’t typically cause problems, but depending on your anatomy and the severity of your rib deformity, you may have inadequate space in your chest and, therefore, limited lung and heart capacity. 

The following symptoms indicate you may have significant physical problems due to pectus excavatum.


Because a sunken chest can reduce your lung capacity, it triggers many of the same symptoms as chronic lung diseases like COPD. Your body has to work harder with less oxygen to perform basic functions, leaving you fatigued.

Fatigue is more than just feeling tired. It’s a profound lack of energy, weakness, mental fogginess, and sense of heaviness that no amount of sleep can relieve. 

Shortness of breath

It’s not hard to see how a sunken chest causes shortness of breath. A sunken rib cage limits your lungs’ ability to expand, so you can’t take in satisfying deep breaths of air. When you exert yourself, you may gasp for air, causing you to quit before finishing a workout. 

People with pectus excavatum typically have low endurance and often are mislabeled as lazy or out of shape. 

Chest pain

Pectus excavatum isn’t always painful, and many people live with the condition without any physical discomfort. But some experience chest and back pain that comes and goes. 

Those who experience pain with a sunken chest usually say it worsens when they exercise, go through a growth spurt, or forget to practice good posture.

Heart issues

Pectus excavatum may also affect your heart. The decreased chest capacity doesn’t only crowd your lungs; it cramps the space around your heart, causing it to beat faster than normal. 

You may also experience heart palpitations, the sensation that your heart skips beats, has extra beats, pounds, or flutters. 

If pectus excavatum pushes your breastbone too close to your pulmonary artery, it can cause a heart murmur that sounds like a whooshing noise through a stethoscope.

When you need treatment for your sunken chest

Most people live happy lives despite pectus excavatum, but others require surgical intervention to correct the condition. Talk to our experienced team about your physical symptoms and the emotional and psychological effects, because these can affect your quality of life as much as the physical.

We typically recommend surgery for those who have:


When possible, we perform a minimally invasive Nuss procedure using the advanced technology of a video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery to tunnel a passageway under your breast bone. Then we insert a Lorenz pectus bar that guides the development of the chest wall — a highly successful surgery for teens who are still growing.

For adults, we use a traditional surgical technique called a modified Ravitch repair, where we remove excess cartilage, reposition your bones, and fortify your chest wall with titanium bars.

No two sunken chest surgeries are alike. To find out if you’re a good candidate, contact us online or call any of our locations in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan in New York City, as well as in Pomona, Goshen, and Fishkill, New York; and Englewood, New Jersey.

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