Funnel chest or depressed sternum is a congenital chest deformity that many times goes undetected until school-age. The medical term for this condition is pectus excavatum. Its cause is unknown but in many instances it is a hereditary defect and is sometimes associated with Marfan or Poland syndromes. It occurs due to overgrowth of the rib cartilage connected to the sternum, resulting in the sternum being pushed backward toward the spine. If the breastbone is pushed back far enough, heart and lung function may be hindered; therefore, exercise that stimulates the circulatory and respiratory systems may not be the best tactic for reversing this deformity.
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A few surgical procedures reverse pectus excavatum. Because bodybuilding exercise techniques can exaggerate the deformity by increasing the pectoral muscles, it is usually not a treatment option. Instead, exercises focus on strengthening, chest expansion, back straightening techniques and encouraging correct posture.
Pectus excavatum may place pressure on the heart and confine the organ, resulting in fatigue accompanied by cardiac arrhythmia and tachycardia. Especially during extensive physical and strenuous exercises you may find corrective exercise more than a challenge. If the heart is displaced to the left of the mid-line, part of the complications can be due to a heart murmur from the pressure caused by the displacement.
Because the chest wall can not expand correctly, it's difficult to accomplish normal oxygenation. This means you may not be able to meet the respiratory rate demanded during exercise. Your diaphragm must work hard to collapse and expand the lungs instead of using the intercostal muscles of the rib cage for the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange. Your already fatiguing condition may not be able to tolerate this extra work load.
The Norfolk, Virginia-based Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters explains that even if you commit yourself to its exercise program, the hospital cannot promise to cure a severe case of pectus excavatum. Its doctors can, however, help to correct poor posture, which is known to aggravate this condition, increases breathing difficulties and add pressure on the heart. The exercises can also prevent progression of a mild case, possibly make surgical correction easier and help prevent a recurrence after surgery. As always, see a doctor before embarking upon any type of exercise program; this is especially important if you are attempting to correct pectus excavatum.