Pectus excavatum, sometimes called “funnel chest,” is an abnormal developmental of the ribcage where the breastbone grows inward. The causes of pectus excavatum aren’t completely clear. It’s not preventable, but it can be treated. One of the ways to treat it is as simple as this: exercise.
However, exercise might not exactly sound easy since pectus excavatum can cause:
- trouble breathing
- chest pain
- decreased exercise tolerance
If you do these exercises slowly and focus on breathing as deeply as possible, you will get more out of them. Your form will be better, you’ll deliver much-needed oxygen to your muscles, your body will relax, and you’ll avoid holding your breath, which is easy to do if something is uncomfortable.
Keep in mind that you should inhale on the easier phase of the movement, and exhale on the exertion phase of each exercise. Specific benefits and directions are included in each exercise below.
The exercises listed are strengthening exercises in one form or another. They’re either for strengthening the pectoral and serratus muscles, or for strengthening the core muscles to improve overall posture. Strengthening these muscles will help with rib flare caused by pectus excavatum and the side effects of it, both physical and cosmetic.
This one may seem a little boring, but there’s no denying that pushups are one of the best ways to strengthen the pectoral muscles. These can be done on the knees or toes. If you’re not ready for full pushups, start with your hands resting on a solid surface higher than your feet (like a very sturdy coffee table or the edge of a couch, cushions removed, that’s pressed up against a wall), and still start on the toes.
Having your hands higher than your feet and your body at an angle can be a good way to start a pushup regimen. As you get stronger, you can begin to lower the angle of your body. This will help you transition to full pushups more easily than going from knees to toes. A full plank engages the muscles differently, even at an angle.
When doing pushups, aim for 2 sets of 10 a day.
- Start in plank position, with your hands under your shoulders and your core engaged.
- As you lower, inhale.
- As you engage your muscles to push yourself up, exhale. Keep your elbows hugging in close to your body. Keep your focus on slowly breathing as you do these, and on engaging the pectorals while keeping the core tight.
You don’t want to just crank these out to get them done. This can compromise your form and do more harm than good. If it’s really tough, break the sets into three sets of five to start, or find a higher point to begin after a week of exercise. If necessary, you can even stand and do pushups pushing against a wall.
For this next exercise, you will need a bench or exercise ball as well as some free weights. If you don’t have weights, you can always use the old standby: a soup can in each hand. Just keep in mind that hand weights are easier to hold and you can get more out of using them, as even 5-pound weights are heavier than your heaviest canned goods.
- Lie with your upper and middle back on a bench or ball, with your legs at a 90-degree angle. Hold 1 weight in each hand and extend your arms to the sky, elbows slightly bent.
- As you inhale, lower your arms out wide, until your elbows are at shoulder height.
- As you exhale, raise your hands until they meet above your chest again.
- Do 2 sets of 10.
If that feels pretty easy, up it to 2 sets of 15 or increase the weight you’re using.
Bad posture can contribute to pectus excavatum’s severity and appearance. Strengthening your postural muscles can help.
A great posture exercise is the superman. This exercise is good for posture in a number of ways since it works your core and your back. Because we often work on our front body — especially when strengthening our chest to help with pectus excavatum — this exercise will help balance your body by strengthening your back muscles.
- Lie on your stomach on a mat, with your arms outstretched in front of you and your forehead resting on the ground.
- As you inhale, lift your head, legs, and arms.
- Hold for a count of 5 and gently release back to the ground.
- Complete 2 sets of 10.
The great thing about this exercise is that it can be done at work, with no weights and in a regular chair. Or it can be made more difficult by sitting on an exercise ball, using weights, or both. You’ll feel this in your upper back and obliques, and it will also work your core and your pecs, especially if you use weights.
- Sit up straight and engage your core. Extend your arms out in front of you. If you are using a weight, hold it with both hands, either wrapping 1 hand over the other or stacking them on the weight.
- Inhale as you sit up straight, reaching through the crown of your head. As you exhale, twist to the right.
- Count slowly to 5, and then move with your breath: You will twist when you exhale and sit up taller or untwist when you inhale.