What Is Pectus?

Pectus has become the term used to describe an irregularly shaped chest.

There are two types of Pectus defects: Carinatum and Excavatum

The chest is sometimes referred to in medical terms as the ‘chest wall’. The chest wall includes the part of the human torso between the neck and the diaphragm, and from axilla to axilla as indicated in the image below.

Pectus Carinatum
This word is Latin derived and it means ‘keel of a boat’. It is used to describe any protrusion of the chest. Pectus Carinatum is frequently referred to as “pigeon chest.”

Pectus Excavatum
Describes a chest that is sunken inward. This is also a latin word meaning ‘hollow or to hollow out’.

Pectus ‘Syndrome’
Pectus  could also be considered as a syndrome.  A syndrome is: “a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterise a particular abnormality or condition, they may occur concurrently and usually form an identifiable pattern.”

It has be found that children with Pectus usually have at least one or more other medical occurrences. They may include; cardiac anomalies like marfan’s syndrome, ehlers-danlos syndrome, or enlargement of the aorta. In addition there may be learning challenges, such as dyslexia, ADD or ADHD.


Spine problems frequently occur. They include curvature of the spine such as Scheurmann’ s syndrome, kyphosis of the head and neck, lordosis of the lower spine.  These curvatures may be induced by the Pectus deformity.   This occurs mostly when there is an asymmetric Pectus defect, either Excavatum or Carinatum that produces uneven pressure onto the ribs, then around to the vertebrae and then causing them to bend or bow to the left or right side depending on where the Pectus is located.

Head and Neck

Many children with Pectus will lurch their head. We feel in part this is due to the altered center of gravity caused by a Pectus defect, in addition to very tight pectoralis muscles and weak upper back muscles. Something we feel is part of the Pectus Syndrome. It is our experience with Pectus Carinatum patients that after their brace is applied and their chest is corrected it may take them about a month to be able to jog and run again due to the realignment of the body and correction of the body weight and its center of gravity.


Lastly, there may also be asymmetry of the shoulders i.e. one shoulder may dip or drop compared to the other. In addition the scapulae / shoulder blades may stick out of the skin sharply on one side or both. Some parents call this ‘chicken wings’ but the correct term is scapular winging.

Pectus is one of the most common chest wall deformities. It generally occurs more often in boys than girls. This may be due to the more intense and sudden adolescent growth spurt of males. Girls do get Pectus however in our experience it tends to occur a little younger in age than boys. The ratio in our experience is 5:2 that is 5 boys to 2 girls.

During adolescent growth is when the condition tends to occur and steadily gets worse as the child grows. Some parents report their child’s Pectus deformity literally popped up overnight. In the photos below you can see a normal chest on a 10 year old, but then in the other photo a severe Pectus Carinatum deformity at age 15 just 5 years later.

Some children hide it from their parents and friends or don’t know they have Pectus. The most common phone call we get is when parents see their child at the beach or pool without a shirt for the first time when the warm weather begins. Pectus deformities may appear suddenly, or may develop slowly from when the child is young. Nonetheless a Pectus defect gets worse until some intervention is taken. Younger is better for getting an assessment and treatment plan for Pectus defects.

Pectus deformities have several affects on the body. These affects are medically referred to as signs and symptoms.

previous arrow
next arrow