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Does Lifting Weights Help Pectus Excavatum?

By Erika Henritz

Common among chest wall abnormalities, pectus excavatum is a concave defect of the breast bone that causes the chest to appear sunken. Individuals with pectus excavatum can experience physical symptoms because of the displacement of underlying organs, such as the heart and lungs. Psychological symptoms are common, as well; the deformity can be obvious enough to cause issues with self-esteem. Depending on the severity of the condition, there are several potential interventions.

Causes and Symptoms

There are conditions associated with pectus excavatum, such as scoliosis and rickets, and some medical experts believe overgrowth of the cartilage between the breast bone and the ribs to be the culprit. But there is not one clear cause of the deformity. There is likely a hereditary correlation -- 40 percent of those with pectus excavatum have a family history of the condition. If you have pectus excavatum, you may experience symptoms, the severity corresponding to the degree of the indentation. Common symptoms include exercise intolerance manifested by shortness of breath and rapid heart rate, fatigue and chest pain. You may also experience an inability to take full breaths because of what feels like chest compression. You may be able to tolerate these symptoms if they are mild. But if they become severe, it may indicate worsening of the deformity and resulting displacement of your heart and lungs. In these cases, medical evaluation is important.

Weightlifting to Correct Pectus Excavatum

If you have only mild pectus excavatum, there are nonsurgical interventions available. Physical therapy exercises generally focus on posture correction to open up the chest and alleviate some of the compression. Weightlifting activities geared toward strengthening the back and improving posture may be beneficial. Do not expect your doctor to advise weight training to build up the chest muscles; doing so can actually exacerbate the concave appearance.

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Exercise Interventions

A good weight-bearing exercise for pectus excavatum requires you to lie on the ground with your arms outstretched and a light weight in each hand. Keeping your arms straight, bring your hands and the weights together slowly straight over your chest, then slowly return them to the ground. Perform this exercise 25 times each day. The pushup is another resistance exercise you can use to improve your posture and thus the mild symptoms of pectus excavatum. Performing 25 every day can strengthen your back and chest muscles enough to improve posture without increasing the size of your chest muscles. While these exercises can help with the symptoms, they will not correct the underlying bone defect. You should only use these exercises for mild symptoms. More severe symptoms warrant medical evaluation.

Surgical Interventions

If your pectus excavatum is severe enough that you experience more moderate to severe symptoms, or you do not experience relief of mild symptoms through exercise, talk to your doctor; there are several types of surgeries available. While effective, they are invasive and not without risk. But pectus excavatum may be putting your health at risk, and your doctor will discuss those risks relative to the potential benefits of surgery.

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