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What Are the Main Causes of a Protruding Sternum?

Dan Cavallari
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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While the main causes of a protruding sternum are unknown, many medical professionals suspect a genetic link. More common in boys than girls, the issue may show up fairly early in life, although 50% of cases are not caught until the patient hits puberty, often between 11 and 14 years of age. While many boys who suffer from this problem do not have fathers who had the same issue, there are enough family cases to warrant a belief that genes play a role, although the specific genetic make-up that may cause it has yet to be discovered and is likely to be complicated.

Also called pigeon chest, the sternum pushes forward in someone with this condition, usually skewing to the left, giving the child’s chest a puffed-up appearance. Children with a sternal protrusion might have trouble playing and exercising. They might also experience some pain where the protrusion occurs. Protruding sternums have been associated with congenital heart defects as well as connective tissue problems, so it is important to have them checked by a healthcare professional.

At the medical office, patients will often be diagnosed after a physical exam and breathing for the healthcare professional. He or she might also order X-rays to measure the depth of the chest since a larger than normal diameter is another indication of pigeon chest. Depending on the condition of the heart, a medical professional might also request that the patient undergo an electrocardiogram test or an echocardiogram test.

Often, a protruding sternum can be treated with a brace. The brace, worn at night, pushes against the sternum and cartilage, allowing it to move to a more normal position. In about 15% of cases, children with this condition also suffer from scoliosis, so a brace to correct the position of the spine may also be required.

In situations where a protruding sternum is an indication of other physiological or medical problems, other treatments may be necessary. Such related problems include Marfan syndrome, which is a connective tissue disorder, and osteogenesis imperfecta, more commonly known as brittle bone disease. Sufferers of Marfan syndrome may need to take medication or undergo surgery, depending on the organ damage they suffer through the disease. To protect their joints and delicate organs, they may need to wear braces and make lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, there currently is no cure for this condition.

Patients suffering from brittle bone disease lack the collagen that helps make bones and connective tissues strong. Like Marfan syndrome, there is no cure for this disease, but patients can lead productive lives with treatment, including medications, bracing, and hormone therapy.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Dan Cavallari
By Dan Cavallari , Former Writer
Dan Cavallari, a talented writer, editor, and project manager, crafts high-quality, engaging, and informative content for various outlets and brands. With a degree in English and certifications in project management, he brings his passion for storytelling and project management expertise to his work, launching and growing successful media projects. His ability to understand and communicate complex topics effectively makes him a valuable asset to any content creation team.

Discussion Comments

By anon993457 — On Nov 16, 2015

It can't be a genetic link because I have it but my identical twin does not have this condition.

By anon951932 — On May 18, 2014

I'm female and I have this, as well as scoliosis. It's very uncomfortable, as whenever I lean over weirdly, it pops and hurts. I also have trouble finding bathing suits and bras that aren't uncomfortable. It's pretty annoying, but I've never been teased about it before, so I would consider myself lucky.

By anon351659 — On Oct 15, 2013

I grew up my whole life with it. It never affected my ability to do anything. I joined the Marines at 17, and served nine years. Now that I'm almost 30 and I can barely tell it's there because I have gained weight. I'm still considered slim but I have filled out a bit more. Growing up, I was never told of a single health issue caused by it. I was encouraged by all of the doctors who saw it to just live a normal life.

I find it odd that if doctors do not fully understand something, they will try to tie anything they possibly can to that unknown. It's just a way for them to scare people into coming into get check ups more often. I have met three others with the condition and none of us are even slightly affected by it.

By anon340115 — On Jun 30, 2013

I have pigeon chest and at the moment, I am depressed about it because it isn't normal. I struggle with wearing T-shirts and can't take my top off when I'm hot. I don't go on holiday because I can't go swimming. I'm single because I can't let any one near because I am afraid of what people think. It's hard to fit in.

By anon275565 — On Jun 18, 2012

I believe I have this. I noticed it about a year or so back. I am now 15 years old.

Although this post makes it seem like it is a thing you get 'teased' for at school, I have never been called up on it (OK, maybe once or twice) but never taken the mick out of me because it isn't that noticeable.

But I can notice it and it said something about affecting your ability to exercise and play sports -- that type of thing. Well, a few years back, I was, well and I quote 'a talented football' player for my age, but then things started to get awkward.

I found my movement became really awkward when playing but I didn't think anything of it. I just thought I lost my 'touch.' Now I look back this could be the reason why. I just hope I don't have something severe.

By sunnySkys — On Jun 16, 2012

@strawCake - Dealing with a sternum protruding must be very difficult for a kid. Younger kids are definitely quick to notice when anyone looks a little bit different, and some children can be quite cruel to one another.

Anyway, it's unfortunate that some people have a protruding sternum and scoliosis. I wonder if the two are somehow related? Either way, it sounds like it would be twice as difficult to deal with scoliosis when you already have difficulties with your sternum. I imagine it would be very uncomfortable sleeping in a brace for both your sternum and your back.

By strawCake — On Jun 15, 2012

When I was in elementary school, I had a classmate that suffered from this condition. He did bear and unfortunate resemblance to a puffed up pigeon because of his protruding sternum, so this resulted in him getting teased a lot by classmates.

On the upside, I don't remember him ever missing school, so I'm assuming his protruding sternum didn't come with other health problems, such as cardiac issues.

I'm not sure what happened to the kid, but hopefully he was wearing a brace at night and was able to correct the problem before reaching adolescence.

Dan Cavallari

Dan Cavallari

Former Writer

Dan Cavallari, a talented writer, editor, and project manager, crafts high-quality, engaging, and informative content for various outlets and brands. With a degree in English and certifications in project management, he brings his passion for storytelling and project management expertise to his work, launching and growing successful media projects. His ability to understand and communicate complex topics effectively makes him a valuable asset to any content creation team.
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