Can Your Body "Swallow" a Breast Implant During Exercise?

This story from FOX news is freaking me out about implants.

A woman was doing Pilates when one of her implants was "swallowed" into her ribcage. She was a cancer survivor who'd had a double mastectomy, and it says her ribs were weaker from an operation.

I want breast implants, but also want to be flexible and active. How likely would this be to happen again?

Doctor Answers 11

Breast Implant "Swallowed" By Chest Cavity-How Likely?

The very fact that this supposed incident made the news means that it is a very rare and unusual event.  In fact, it is so rare that most of the responders have never heard of another case.  This appears to be a complication of her cancer or her cancer treatment and not really the implant.  

Saint Louis Plastic Surgeon
4.7 out of 5 stars 84 reviews

Breast Implants and Strenuous Exercise.

Of all the potential complications that can occur from breast augmentation, this is one you should not be concerned with.  This rare, and never before reported complication, did not occur in a patient with normal chest anatomy like you. You should have no concerns about having breast implants and being able to do any form of exercise, no matter how strenuous it is.

Barry L. Eppley, MD, DMD
Indianapolis Plastic Surgeon
4.7 out of 5 stars 72 reviews

"Swallowed" breast implant risk - almost non-existent

This case of an implant being "swallowed" into a woman's chest was published in a sensational manner to generate publicity. It's occurrence was as a result of a confluence of very rare factors - a perfect storm - that it was published as a case report. This included radiation damaged ribs from treatment for breast cancer, a limited sized implant, heart surgery performed between ribs in the same area in which the normal structures between the ribs were disrupted and not repaired AND a particular breathing maneuver that capitalized on this situation.

 More people have been struck by lightening or won the lottery than have experienced this "complication". It is for all practical purposes a non issue.

Steven Turkeltaub, MD
Scottsdale Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 30 reviews

Can a breast implant be "swallowed" during exercise

The story you are referring to was actually taken from a clinical case report in the December 15th issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.  While true, the occurrence was unusual enough to be published as a case report.  In this particular patient, it was most likely related to previous damage to the tissues between her ribs, related to previous open heart surgery (her heart was operated on through an incision between her ribs).

For those interested, I am including a link to the original article, which includes the explanation.

Craig S. Rock, MD
Houston Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 29 reviews

Implants can't be sucked into the chest

This story is completely bogus.  The only way this could even remotely happen is if the implant were saline and it popped and was reabsorbed rapidly.  Otherwise she would have to have had such diseased ribs (?radiation therapy) that they would cave in but under those circumstances I doubt she could do strenuous exercise.

Richard P. Rand, MD, FACS
Seattle Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 67 reviews

Great headline but has no relevance to someone considering elective breast augmentation.

The chest can not "swallow" anything. If the ribcage is diseased and damaged (radiation treatments and cancer surgery) and if the implant was surrounded by scar encapulation and if it had been in place for a long while the underlying bone can slowly be resorbed making them weak enough to collapse inward.  That is a lot of "ifs" that do not apply to a healthy woman considering elective breast augmentation. Once again the headlines did their job of getting your attention but also created unnecessary and sensational messaging.

Plastic Surgeons get strange questions often because of this type of "journalism" but this is about as strange and off base as it gets.

Dr. Mosher


Mathew C. Mosher, MD
Vancouver Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 34 reviews

Swallowing breast implants

I don't know what you heard on Fox News, however we have never heard of the chest 'swallowing' a breast implant, augmentation, or reconstruction. Sure got your attention. Score one for the tabloids.

Best of luck,

Peter E. Johnson, MD
Chicago Plastic Surgeon
4.0 out of 5 stars 43 reviews

Swallowing breast implants

I did not hear about this stroy, but I would imagine it is highly unusual for an implant to be "swallowed".  Was the patient getting radiation or erosion of her ribs from cancer that predisposed a weakeness?

Steven Wallach, MD
New York Plastic Surgeon
4.1 out of 5 stars 29 reviews

Implant Moving to Chest Cavity

This is truly a "freak" occurrence that is more likely related to her cancer. The rib cage can deform when tissue expanders are used in breast reconstruction. This is very unlikely to happen in any case.

Karol A. Gutowski, MD, FACS
Chicago Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 68 reviews

Can Your Body "Swallow" a Breast Implant During Exercise?

This news story conveys 2 messages; One, the almost anything, however unlikely, can happen and two, that it makes no sense whatsoever.

In all my professional career in Plastic Surgery I have never seen, heard or read of such a complication involving breast implants. It just does not happen and you are more likely to be hit by lightning than have this happen to you.

As a Pilates drop out (just could not hack it), all of us know the amount of straining involved laying on your back, "sucking it in" making our backs unnaturally conform to the straight surface while simultaneously performing those core excercises. The result, a continuous Valsalva (or straining of the core muscles as one sees when lifting a heavy weight, which if ANYTHING, would push things out and cause hernias NOT suck things in. The pectoralis major muscle of the chest CANNOT push anything into the chest because it does not cover the entire implant. Since it covers only the top 20-30% of a breast implant, pressure from the muscle will just push the implant away from under the implant. (Try putting your hand on a third of a wet or oily orange or apple and push down hard and you will see this in action). Furthermore, the distances between our ribs is very small and is bridged by layers of tough intercostal muscles (as anyone who ever ate ribs knows). Nothing wider than 0.5 inch can even fit between the ribs and we are asked to believe that a breast implant squeezed in between the ribs, traversing the muscles and ending up in the chest?

Lastly if this woman had such a soft, jelly-like diseased chest wall, how could she engage in Pilates? Arte you kidding me?

If this "news item" was published elsewhere I would call it a hoax.

Ignore it.

Peter A Aldea, MD

Peter A. Aldea, MD
Memphis Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 109 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.