How to use a vacuum bell
What is the vacuum bell, and how it does help with pectus excavatum?
A lot of us aren't eligible for surgery, or don't have the means to afford by ourselves. The good news is that the vacuum bell has proven results, can be used without the need for a doctor, and is a great alternative to surgery. Combine it with a pectus-focused fitness plan, and you'll be seeing results in no time.
I've complied this article using medical studies showing how the vacuum bell can help improve pectus excavatum, and I'll link them all below at the bottom of this article if you want to dive in a little bit deeper.
What is a vacuum bell?
The vacuum bell is a fairly recent invention from 2005, designed by Dr. Eckart Klobe. It's about as simple as it gets for a medical device — it's essentially a rubber dome with a clear front, with a rubber hose that connects to a hand pump. There are some variations of the vacuum bell, including sizes for every body type. Some of the more expensive vacuum bells even have a pressure gauge on the pump so you know exactly how much pressure you're building, but you can get great results without one.
How does the vacuum bell work?
The vacuum bell is an extremely simple device that works by using reverse pressure to lessen the visible dent of pectus excavatum. Once the vacuum bell is applied to your chest (directly over top the dent), you just squeeze the pump until it removes enough air out of the device, which then creates some suction to pull your sternum into a flat position. For more information, check out our article on how the vacuum bell works.
How do you use the vacuum bell?
- Make sure your chest is completely dry before applying the vacuum bell. This will help reduce any blisters if you apply too much pressure
- Line up the vacuum bell so that it's directly over the dent on your chest
- I like to lean up against a wall while the vacuum bell is in the proper position, then start to pump the air out while applying pressure to the wall. This makes it much easier to "grip" right away, without having to apply force to it manually.
- Keep pumping until you see your chest starting to rise through the window in the device. It'll start to feel a bit strange, but it's a feeling you'll get used to after a while. The amount of pressure is going to depend on the size of the vacuum bell, as well as your body. I recommend starting off with a smaller amount of pressure, and then build up to more over time.
- Once you've worn the vacuum bell for your set time, you simply squeeze the air release valve on the pump, and remove the device.
How many times should you pump the vacuum bell?
Since the end goal of the vacuum bell is to flatten our chest appearance, you're going to want to pump enough air out of the vacuum bell to get your chest is flat as possible. That said, we don't want to start with that pressure right away, and will need to slowly train our bodies to comfortably take that pressure comfortably.
Keep in mind the amount of pressure will vary from body to body. It's best to talk to your doctor to determine the best pressure, but I'll outline the routine that was told to me here.
Without a pressure gauge
When I started, my doctor recommended I pump it about 5 times, and let it sit so I could get used to the pressure. The high-end vacuum bells shouldn't leak air, but if yours does, you'll need to keep an eye on it, and keep pumping it up to remain at a consistent level.
After waiting for 15-20 minutes, apply another 3-5 pumps and rest for another 15 minutes. Once you've done this, mark down the date, and the amount of pumps you used, and you know have a baseline. From here, you can slowly start to add pressure and length to every session, until you can wear it at a high enough pressure for a few hours at a time.
Once your sessions are complete, take the vacuum bell off and examine your chest.
With a pressure gauge
Using a pressure gauge is going to give you a more consistent treatment, as you know the exact pressure inside the vacuum bell at all times. My vacuum bell didn't come with a pressure gauge, but I was able to purchase one from Pectus Healing and installed it within 2 minutes. I much prefer the guage not only for ease of use, but for peace of mind as well (getting blisters sucks).
Again, consult your doctor for the exact amount of pressure you should be using, but in my case I was told to use about 150 mbar. This study shows various pressure levels they used on a variety of patients.
Redness is completely normal, and will happen every single time you use the vacuum bell.
When you first start using the vacuum bell, you might notice some bruising around your dent a few days after your treatments. Your body isn't used to this pressure, so a little bit of bruising is going to be ok. If it's severe bruising, you should go talk to your doctor.
If you're getting blisters from using the vacuum bell, you've applied too much pressure, and should back off next time (once they are healed). More details on this below.
How often should you use the vacuum bell?
If you're new to using the vacuum bell, Eckart Klobe recommends that 15 minutes is going to be long enough for your first time. After that, it's recommended that you wear the vacuum bell for 30 minutes, twice a day, for about 4-6 weeks. After that, the best results occur after wearing the vacuum bell for 2 hours per day.
Studies have shown the optimal amount of time is about 120 minutes once you've worked up to it.
Is the vacuum bell painful?
It's not a painful application, but it does feel a little bit strange at first. If you're starting to feel pain, you should immediately back off the pressure and use something lower. If the pain continues, you should visit your doctor for more advice.
Getting blisters from using a vacuum bell
Blisters are a common occurrence when you use too much pressure in your bell, and having a slightly damp chest will make them even worse. After not using my vacuum bell for a while, I ended up with a ton of blisters after thinking that I could continue using the pressure I was using before, after a long period of not using it.
That was a mistake.
Once I took the vacuum bell off, I was greeted with a ton of blisters on my chest, including one that was about an inch long.
The blisters themselves are harmless, and it's not recommended that you try to pop them yourself. What I ended up doing was applying some medical gauze over my chest with some medical tape, and tried not to aggravate them during the day as best as I could. After about 10 days the blisters were all reduced in size, and I was just left with a few red marks which continue to fade over another week or so. Once you're at that point, feel free to apply a topical cream like polysporin to speed up the process.
If you get blisters, put a pause to using the vacuum bell until they are healed—it'll only get worse if you keep using it.
How long do you need to use the vacuum bell before you start seeing results?
The cool thing about using the bell is that you'll see the dent in your chest reduce as soon as your first session is complete. For those of us that have never seen ourselves with a flat chest, it really is an emotional thing to see for the very first time.
That said, you can't just wear the thing once and be done with it, it is an ongoing commitment. If you want to supplement your vacuum bell usage, we recommend doing some home workouts focused on funnel chest.
In a comprehensive study, doctors found that a group of patients that wore the vacuum bell for an average of 107 minutes per day, saw that half of the patients sternums was lifted to a normal level after 22 months (or around 1500 hours).
How much do vacuum bells cost?
Unfortunately vacuum bells are not cheap. You can find some very sketchy handmade ones on ebay for as cheap as $100 (do not buy these) as well as some mid-tier units from Europe and China for up to $300. The quality products made by professionals typically start at $400+, but they come in a variety of sizes, which is key if you want this treatment to be effective.
Which vacuum bell should you buy?
I recommend buying from Pectus Healing. They have doctors on staff for consultations, are cheaper than the primary ones from Dr. Eckart Klobe, and come in a variety of sizes for every body type (including a modified design for women). They'll walk you through the process of measuring yourself, and getting the correct one.
Are there any side effects to using a vacuum bell?
According to studies, proper use of the vacuum bell shows no side effects.