What Is Pectus Carinatum?

What is Pectus Carinatum? – a frequently asked question for a rare chest wall condition.

Pectus carinatum (PEK-tus kair-ih-NOT-um) is a chest deformity where part of the breastbone pushes outward. In normal circumstances, as the chest wall develops, the cartilage that connects the ribs grows typically flat along the chest. In cases of pectus carinatum, the cartilage grows abnormally, and the cartilage pushes outward. The bulging effect gives the chest a birdlike appearance which is why this condition is also known as pigeon chest.

Pectus carinatum is rare, affecting up to 2 in every 600 children and boys more than girls.

Causes Of Pectus Carinatum

Pectus carinatum is when there is an abnormal development of the cartilage that connects the ribs, and the exact cause is not known. 

It is more common in boys, and there seems to be a hereditary component where it runs in the family in some cases. But it is not known for sure if it’s an inherited condition. 

In some patients, pectus carinatum could be associated with rare genetic disorders, such as Marfan syndrome, a connective tissue disorder.

What Are The Symptoms?

Mostly, children with pectus carinatum do not have any symptoms other than their chest sticking out. Sometimes, symptoms are present from birth or early childhood, but most commonly, they are detected in the early teen years. 

Some people with pectus carinatum may feel tenderness where the breastbone sticks out. In severe cases, the symptoms of Pectus Carinatum can include difficulty breathing during physical activities, asthma, and respiratory infections. 

The condition worsens as kids grow and affects boys more often than girls.


Pectus carinatum is often asymmetrical, where one side of the chest is affected more than the other, where the breastbone and ribs push outward. Most children don’t have symptoms other than the chest starting to stick out, which typically develops in the early teen years.

To diagnose pectus carinatum, a specialist will examine how the cartilage is growing, which is often not detected on an x-ray, as the cartilage is soft tissue, not bone. 

Depending on the appearance, professionals could decide to test for related conditions, such as scoliosis and Marfan syndrome. 


A brace is the most common approach for mild and moderate cases requiring non-invasive treatment. 

Orthotic treatment (chest brace) is often effective for children with pectus carinatum (pigeon chest). Bracing puts gentle pressure on the chest to change the shape of the cartilage over time, which will reverse the outward appearance. An assessment will determine the amount of pressure required on a case-by-case basis. For the treatment to be effective, your child will wear the brace as directed by the Orthotist, and the length of the treatment will depend on the severity of the pigeon chest. 

Pectus Carinatum

What Else Should I Know About Pectus Carinatum? 

Mild pectus carinatum won’t need treatment if it doesn’t affect how the lungs or heart work. But a teenager’s body image can suffer when the condition is very noticeable.

Non-surgical chest brace treatment can improve a child’s physical and emotional well-being. Braces are usually effective in reversing the outward appearance of the sternum. Most teens and kids who wear a brace do very well and are happy with the results.

When To See A Healthcare Professional?

PC (Pectus Carinatum) is often diagnosed by physical exam, with the most obvious sign being the chest’s physical appearance. In some cases an x-ray of the front and side view of the chest may be required to exclude bony deformity or other underlying problems.

If you suspect your child has pectus carinatum, make an appointment to see a healthcare professional.