Pectus excavatum, better known as sunken chest, was once believed to a purely cosmetic abnormality. Why would patients suffering from a cosmetic problem complain of shortness of breath? A little applied video game technology solves the mystery.

Sunken chest is the most common congenital deformity. occurring in one out of every 1,000 children. It is characterized by an indentation of the breastbone, caused by abnormal growth of cartilage. It looks a little weird, but with the exception of severe cases, it's purely a cosmetic problem. Or is it?


Patients with pectus excavatum have often complained of shortness of breath or problems exercising, but traditional methods of measuring air flow were unable to detect a difference between patients with or without sunken chest.

Enter researchers at Virginia's Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters and Eastern Virginia Medical School. The team conducted a study of patients with and without pectus excavatum using a video game derived technology called optoelectronic plethysmography.

Optoelectronic plethysmography utilizes tiny reflective markers scanned by a series of infrared cameras to create realistic animated figures. It's a method of motion capture, and in this case, it captured the motion of the subjects' chests as they breathed.

Each of the 119 research subjects, 64 of which suffered from sunken chest, were fitted with 89 reflective markers and made to breath. Pattern recognition software helped map the movement of the chest cavity.


The researchers discovered that chest movement decreased in patients with sunken chest closer to the deformity. These patients compensated by using more of their abdominal muscles to draw in air.

"We believe these findings may explain the complaints of shortness of breath and easy fatigability of patients with non-corrected pectus excavatum," said CHKD pediatric surgeon Robert Obermeyer, MD, an assistant professor at EVMS. "Essentially, these patients are working harder to get the same amount of breath."


The technology behind optoelectronic plethysmography was developed to capture the tiniest movements of motion capture actors, down to the facial expression.

So when it is finally scientifically proven that video games cause us to turn into homicidal maniacs, at least people with sunken chest can breathe easier knowing gaming technology helped them out.


Struggling for Breath: Videogame Technology Documents Abnormal Breathing Patterns in Patients With Sunken Chest [Science Daily]

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