School sports seasons are starting. Don’t let this medical condition stifle your child’s participation

Surgeons at the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters' Nuss Center treat chest wall deformities through surgical and non-surgical methods. (Southside Daily/Courtesy of CHKD)
Surgeons at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters’ Nuss Center treat chest wall deformities through surgical and non-surgical methods. (Southside Daily/Courtesy of CHKD)

NORFOLK — As school days get closer, many parents may also be preparing their children for fall sports and a check-up with their pediatrician for a sports physical where they would evaluate joint and bone health including posture, joints, strength, and flexibility.

For boys around the ages of 11 to 14, that could mean checking on and possibly treating a chest wall abnormality that tends to worsen during puberty, according to Dr. Robert Kelly, chief of surgery at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.

Kelly pioneered CHKD’s Nuss Center where he treats two types of chest wall deformities — pectus excavatum, or sunken chest, and pectus carinatum, or pigeon chest — with the most common being sunken chest occurring four times more in boys than it does in girls.

“About 90 percent of the cases we see are the sunken chest type of chest wall deformity, and in about 80 percent of the males we see, their deformity was noticed by peers while doing activities like swimming or playing basketball,” he said.

Surgeons at the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters treat pectus excavatum, or sunken chest, in the Nuss Center. (Southside Daily/Courtesy of CHKD)
Surgeons at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters treat pectus excavatum, or sunken chest, in the Nuss Center. (Southside Daily/Courtesy of CHKD)
Surgeons at the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters treat pectus carinatum, or pigeon chest, in the Nuss Center. (Southside Daily/Courtesy of CHKD)
Surgeons at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters treat pectus carinatum, or pigeon chest, in the Nuss Center. (Southside Daily/Courtesy of CHKD)

But make no mistake, Kelly said the condition isn’t a cosmetic matter as worsening symptoms are likely to inhibit a child’s ability to be active or play sports.

“Kids often complain of difficulty breathing, tiredness, and two out three will complain of chest pain,” he said.

Once a pediatrician deems treatment is necessary for a child they can decide on either non-surgical or surgical methods, including using a vacuum bell which Kelly said is more common for kids younger than 11 years old.

The surgical, or Nuss procedure named for Dr. Donald Nuss who developed it, is “minimally invasive” and involves doctors inserting a metal bar under the ribs and sternum to reshape the chest wall, according to the clinic’s website.

“Most children return to school in a few weeks and resume normal activity after about a month,” the site reads.

CHKD has treated more than 5,000 cases of chest wall deformities over the last 30 years with a 1.1 percent “recurrence rate,” according to Nuss Center outcome data.

For information about the Nuss Center and chest wall deformities, click here.

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Lucretia Cunningham is a multimedia journalist at Southside Daily covering hyper-local stories in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. Her stories focus on public safety, tourism, and city government. She is a Virginia transplant and military spouse originally from Chicago. Lucretia also served on active duty from 2006 to 2016 and started her journalism career as a broadcaster in the Virginia Air National Guard. When she’s not covering stories on the Southside, she’s covering stories with her Air National Guard unit.