What Is the Chest Wall?

On life’s long list of things we take for granted, you can add your chest wall. If you are like most people, you never give a second thought to this structural part of your anatomy that defines your upper torso. 

But at Rockland Thoracic & Vascular Associates, we think about it a lot. Our experts specialize in keeping your chest wall and all its contents healthy and thriving. That’s why we’re taking some time to take a deeper look into the chest wall and give you a glimpse of its daily duties.

A quick anatomy lesson

Your chest wall is part of your thoracic skeleton, which means it sits below your neck and above your tummy. You can think of it as a box made of muscles, fat, skin, cartilage, and bones. The muscles and flexible cartilage give the chest wall a dynamic quality that allows for expansion when you inhale.

The chest wall’s main job is to surround and protect your vital organs, including your heart, lungs, and liver. 

The boundaries of your chest wall are determined by certain landmarks. Roughly, the nipples mark the upper border, your bellybutton marks the lower edge, and your armpits indicate the lateral boundaries. 

These landmarks, as well as specific muscles and bones that are identifiable from the exterior, such as your pecs, ribs, clavicle, and sternum, help doctors locate your thoracic artery, aid them in placing a thoracostomy tube, and other similar procedures.

What can go wrong in your chest wall?

Typically, when you think about potential problems in the chest area, you think of heart and lung diseases. But the chest wall itself can suffer from health issues as well.

Structural problems

One of the most common issues that involve the structure of the chest wall is called pectus excavatum. In this condition, your ribs grow abnormally, which affects the structure of your chest wall and creates a sunken, caved-in appearance. 

In mild cases, it’s merely a cosmetic issue, but if it’s severe, it may interfere with proper breathing. 

If you need surgery to correct pectus excavatum, our team at Rockland Thoracic & Vascular Associates offers three effective procedures using the most advanced technology available:

We discuss all your options with you and help you understand which procedure is best suited to your condition, but rest assured they are each effective ways of repositioning your ribs and cartilage and easing your symptoms.


When bacteria and viruses enter your chest cavity, they can infect your internal organs as well as your chest wall. 

Pleurisy is an infection of the membranes between your chest wall and lungs. The two layers of membranes normally slide smoothly as you breathe. But pleurisy causes inflammation, which leads to friction and pain when you breathe in and out. 

Costochondritis also affects the chest wall. Here, the cartilage that joins your sternum and ribs together becomes inflamed. It’s usually caused by minor trauma or overuse of your arms, but other injuries and illnesses can lead to costochondritis as well. 

Empyema occurs when fluid builds up in your inner chest wall lining called the pleural space. You may have a dry cough, sweating, fever and chills, and chest pain. This condition often stems from lung infections, trauma, surgery, and pneumonia.


Just like everywhere else on your body, your chest wall may develop tumors. This occurs when new cells in your tissue renew and multiply, but they grow abnormally and become a mass called a tumor. 

Tumors in your chest wall are often benign (noncancerous) and may be one of three types:

  • Fibrous dysplasia
  • Osteochondroma
  • Chondroma

Cancerous tumors in the chest wall are usually sarcomas, which begin in your bones, cartilage, or soft tissues. 

The bottom line is that your chest wall is a mighty protector of your vital organs, but it’s not invincible. 

If you’re experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, tenderness, inflammation, shoulder or back pain, or a dry cough, especially if any of these symptoms are accompanied by a fever, we urge you to come see us for a chest wall checkup.

To schedule an appointment, simply call our friendly staff or request your consultation online. We have four locations in New York — Pomona, Goshen, Fishkill, and the Washington Heights section of Manhattan — and one in Englewood, New Jersey.