Pediatric chest wall conditions

Trust us to find the best treatment plan for your child

If your child has a "sunken" chest or a chest that pushes out too far, UW Health's expert pediatric chest wall team of surgeons and rehabilitation specialists at American Family Children's Hospital will design a plan to ensure the best outcome for your child.
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Overview

How we treat and manage chest wall conditions

When your child lives with a chest wall condition, you want to ensure their health and confidence in their body. The chest wall clinic team at UW Health takes time to create the best treatment plan for your child.

Our doctors, surgeons, nurse practitioners, nurses and physical therapists work together. We give your child the physical therapy and emotional support they need. If your child needs surgery, we explain what happens before, during and after the procedure.

Our therapists work closely with your child to build strength and ensure the best recovery after surgery.

Conditions and treatments

Advanced treatments for chest wall deformities

The UW Health chest wall clinic evaluates and treats abnormally shaped chest walls.

There are two types of chest wall conditions

Pectus carinatum is a common pediatric problem where the rib cartilage has grown too much. This causes the breastbone (sternum) and rib cartilage to protrude (stick out). It is also known as pigeon chest. Some children have social and physical concerns about the look of the chest wall. Often, they may not remove their shirt, swim or take part in other activities.

Pectus carinatum is four times more common in boys than girls. The cause is unknown; however, it may be genetic as it tends to run in families.

Pectus excavatum is the most common problem of the chest in children. It is also known as “sunken chest” or “funnel chest” because it can look like a sunken area of the sternum (breastbone). It can be so deep the sternum nearly touches the spine. Abnormal growth of the rib cartilage causes the breastbone to be pushed inward. This sunken area in the breastbone may be even, or it may be more inward on one side than the other. As with pectus carinatum, some children and their parents report that they have major social and physical concerns about the look of the chest wall. Often, they will not remove their shirt, swim or take part in other activities.

For some children, pectus excavatum is found when they are babies. In others, it is not seen until a rapid growth spurt happens, usually during puberty. The cause is unknown; however, it tends to run in families. Twenty-five percent of patients report a family history of chest wall abnormality.

Nonsurgical and surgical treatments

Our surgeons and rehabilitation specialists create an individualized care plan for your child. Treatments include:

  • Bracing, to push the chest wall into a normal position

  • Pediatric rehabilitation

  • Physical therapy to build upper-body strength and improve posture

  • Corrective surgery

The surgeon will offer you the option of a pain control technique used during the surgery called cryoanalgesia. This technique temporarily freezes the nerves along the rib cage in front of the chest, causing them to feel numb. The nerves will stay numb for about 6 to 12 weeks. This helps kids recover from surgery faster and with much less pain. Because of the improved pain control form cryoanalgesia, most patients requires less pain medicine after surgery.

Meet our team

Experienced, team-based care

The chest wall care team at UW Health includes experts in bracing, physical therapy and surgery for chest wall conditions.

Our providers

Locations

Quality care close by

We offer specialized chest wall care at American Family Children’s Hospital and UW Health clinics in Green Bay, Madison, Oshkosh and La Crosse.

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  • American Family Children's Hospital - Pediatric Chest Wall Clinic
    • 1675 Highland Ave. / Madison, WI
    • (608) 263-6420
    • Open now
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      View hours, services and more

Resources

Learn about living with a chest wall condition

Our patients share how treatment at UW Health impacts their lives.

Living with pectus carinatum

At age 10, Amelia started wearing a brace for 23 hours a day. After two months, her carinatum corrected. She continued to wear the brace for eight hours a day for seven more months to maintain the correction. Watch Amelia's story

Maddy worked with her doctors to make changes to her brace. The result? A brace that provides better results. She expects to complete her bracing treatment in 12 months. Watch Maddy tell her story


Matthias spent nine months wearing a brace to treat his carinatum. What began as wearing the brace for 23 hours a day gradually reduced to every other night. Watch Matthias' story



Chad started bracing when he was 16, but later stopped treatment. He returned to UW Health when he was 19. A new brace reduced his pain and his carinatum. He continues to brace. Watch Chad tell his story

Living with pectus excavatum

Alex had a “hole” in his chest for as long as he can remember. When he started feeling pain during physical activity, his doctor recommended surgery. Watch Alex and his mom Pam talk about getting treatment a few hours from home.

Patient resources

Learn more about chest wall deformities from our patient guide (pdf)