You’ve probably heard of a barrel chest but what is it? This is a physical condition that weightlifters and bodybuilders often try to achieve. A barrel-shaped chest is often considered a sign of overall upper-body strength. However, women and children can also have a rounded chest. People have this condition if the area that includes the breastbone and ribs has an equal depth and width. One of the ways people have this physical feature is if they do exercises like bench and military presses to boost their chest muscles and upper-body strength. In that case, it’s something that some men try to achieve.
You also might be wondering whether or not a barrel-shaped chest is a “good” thing. In the case of bodybuilding/weightlifting, it’s something you can achieve with a lot of hard work. On the other hand, sometimes a rounded chest has other causes like birth defects and diseases. For example, the late stage of a disease called COPD can cause the chest to have an outward position. There are other causes of this condition that are related to factors like age, genes, and environment. Sometimes the condition can be reversed, and in other cases, it can’t be. It’s important to separate fact from fiction.
What Is a Barrel Chest?
As you might guess this isn’t a fancy medical term. However, it explains the situation in which a person’s chest is rounded and barrel-shaped. Sometimes it’s a physical feature people like weightlifters and bodybuilders try to achieve. In this case, it’s a symbol of upper-body strength.
This feature happens when the circumference of the thorax (including ribs/breastbone) has the same width and depth. In this case, the characteristic is something that people want and work hard to achieve.
On the other hand, there are various factors like genetics, age, and atmosphere that affect people’s development of a barrel-shaped chest. This includes cases when it results from a disorder, disease, or defect.
It’s important to note that a barrel-shaped chest isn’t a disease. It’s instead a condition that can be caused by various factors. For example, some conditions cause lungs to stay very over-inflated, which results in symptoms like shortness of breath.
In other cases, the barrel shape results from changes in the rib cage as people age. This can also show up in seniors whose rounded back causes their chest to be rounded.
It’s important to note that it’s quite rare for a person’s barrel-shaped chest to be “fixed.” There are some situations in which a condition that causes the rounded chest is treated. However, this is a different situation than treating the condition itself.
If you have this physical feature and it’s unrelated to upper-body strength then you should find out the root cause. This will allow you to get the condition treated. In some situations, the cause of the rounded chest is serious. When that’s the case it’s important to get it treated as soon as possible.
In some cases like age and genetics there’s little you can do. However, other conditions are more treatable so you can reduce their effects that might include an outward chest.
Causes of Barrel Chest
Here are some of the main causes of a barrel-shaped chest:
We’re not just talking about climbing up a small hill. When you’re at an extreme altitude the lungs must work overtime in order to swap out carbon dioxide for oxygen. As a result, people who live at altitudes of 16,500+ feet (5,000+ meters) often have a rounded chest.
It’s worth noting there are few communities in the world that are located this high up. They include one in Tibet and Peru.
This often causes a barrel-shaped chest in children. The asthma results in the air passages widening and narrowing. If someone has severe asthma the air passages stay narrow. This causes air to get trapped in the lungs, which causes the chest to look like a barrel.
This is one of the many types of arthritis. In fact, arthritis can actually happen in any of the body’s joints. This is the most common type of the disease. It can affect body parts like the hands, knees, back, neck, and hips. However, it can also affect the chest.
The symptom is actually related to the middle spine wearing down. This results in the spine’s structure changing. It results in the rib cage looking like a barrel. Over time it can become a permanent situation.
Surgery is one type of treatment for osteoarthritis. However, it can be difficult to fix the damage to body parts like the rib cage.
Some people have big rib cages from birth. However, in other situations it results from genetic disorders like one known as DMC syndrome. This results in other symptoms besides a rounded chest. Fun Fact: Only about 100 cases of DMC have been reported!
All of the above-mentioned factors can cause a barrel-shaped chest.
Treatment and Prevention
The treatments for this condition are greatly related to dealing with the effects of a particular condition that resulted in the damage. For example, in many cases, this is related to lung damage.
There aren’t any remedies for various conditions that cause a rounded chest. So, it’s important to take steps like lowering inflammation and making breathing easier. This can help to deal with the factors that cause this condition.
COPD is one of the main causes of this situation. You can take steps to prevent such conditions by avoiding secondhand smoke and exercising regularly. It also helps to lower the risk of various infections.
It’s worth noting that a barrel chest usually isn’t painful. However, it can function as a sign of serious diseases like those affecting the lungs.
You can also take steps to help prevent COPD and thus symptoms like a rounded chest. If you smoke you should stop right now. You should also avoid second-hand smoke as much as possible. If you’re around chemicals/pollutants use gear to minimize your exposure to them.
You can also take steps to prevent osteoarthritis:
- Live an active lifestyle
- Reduce your sugar intake
- Avoid injury and situations that are physically risky
- Do 30 min. of exercise 5x/week to keep knees/hips stabilized
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- You can also take steps to prevent and treat cystic fibrosis (CF) they include:
- Exercise to loosen the lungs’ mucus
- Avoid irritants like industrial fumes and cigarette smoke
- Drink fluids to thin mucus
These are all important steps to help prevent the buildup of mucus in the lungs. Taking these measures won’t make it 100% certain you’ll avoid CF.
On the other hand, your doctor can help determine the best way to prevent or treat this and related conditions so you can avoid the likelihood of experiencing a barrel chest.